Monday, September 17, 2007

Never too young to appreciate voting habits

(Originally published 6/13/07)

(Author's note: On June 6, 2007, Alabama State Sen. Charles Bishop slugged fellow Sen. Lowell Barron in the face on the Senate floor, saying Barron called him a vulgar name. Thanks to an Alabama Public Television camera that had been running in the Senate chamber at the time, the tape of "The Punch" made national and international news.)

I took my two young daughters with me to vote in the special election last week. On the way, I reminded them: no running. No jumping. No yelling. Voting is serious business, I said. It’s not playtime.

(Actually, in my former life as a campaign manager, I encountered a lot of adults who should have been reminded of those things, too. But that’s another subject.)

At a table across from the friendly lady who checked me in, I sat my girls down next to me and marked the ballot.

Then I let them use the pen to trace the lines.

I explained how the collection machine would "eat" the ballot and count it with the others.

The girls watched, wide-eyed, as our ballot disappeared. My youngest, especially, was in awe: "COOL!" she said. The man at the door helped me include them in the process; he gave us all "I Voted" stickers, which they proudly wore to preschool.

As we left, I explained to them why voting is so important. It’s kind of like when Daddy and I are planning dinner and we ask them what they would like. They have choices: pizza or hamburgers? Chicken or macaroni? Voting, I said, is making choices. It’s how people decide who will be in charge and, in some cases, how things will work, in their town, state and country.

Voting is one of the special things about being an American. In a lot of countries around the world, people aren’t asked how they want things done; they are just told, I said. It would be like Mom and Dad making liver soup every night. They would have to eat it, even though it’s yucky.

I don’t know how much of this my girls understand. But, just in case, I take them to vote every time I have a chance. I want to instill good habits in them. I want them growing up with a clear understanding that voting is one of the happy burdens of being an American. I want them to be honored to do it.

Then came the brouhaha in the Alabama Senate.

In this space a couple of weeks ago, I said that unless that body could get itself straightened out and do its job, every Alabamian should vote his or her senator out of office at the earliest opportunity.

Again, I could only shake my head at the sheer arrogance that paved the way for this latest disgrace against this state and its citizens.

I don’t care who started it, or why. All I care about is that the lofty lessons I am trying to teach my daughters about their government were laid to waste by men who act more like spoiled little brats at recess than mature adults who understand the awesome responsibility of governing others.

As we watched the tape of the incident on national news networks, I thought about all the unethical, unprofessional and downright disgraceful behavior by politicians at every level of government. I wondered why there isn’t more public outrage about it.

Politicians will do just what they can get away with, and as long as they think you’re not watching or that you don’t care, you shouldn’t expect that they’ll change.

The bottom line is that if you don’t show up at the polls to give these clowns and their cronies their walking papers, you’re giving them the green light to keep it up.

Last week, we got to see what can happen when you vote -- and when you don’t.

I hope my girls, and their fellow Alabamians, remember it.

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