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In election year, voting is your most important decision


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 26, 2000

It's primary election day as I write this, and soon my wife and I will be heading for the polls.

Not that we have any grandiose ideas about changing the political complexion of our county or state. We are registered Democrats, and we don't have many decisions to make in this Republican-dominated area.

But vote we will, both having been instilled by our parents with the idea that it is our responsibility as citizens.

My earliest memories of politics and elections come from the small town in Iowa where I grew up as part of a political minority even more pronounced than the one in which I find myself here.

I think all of the Democrats in that town probably could have met in one private home. My parents and grandparents would have been there, an uncle and aunt, and a few others. I can still remember when my parents learned that the party's numbers would swell by two -- a couple from out of town had bought one of the three grocery stores on the square, and they were Democrats. It was almost cause for celebration.

The real cause for celebration among this hardy minority was Franklin D. Roosevelt's victory in the 1932 presidential race. My father, who had been a partner in a garage business -- not exactly a booming one during the Great Depression -- saw a new opportunity.

Deciding factors
Social Security, Medicare and prescription drugs are issues that hit home for many seniors. And they're listening to what the presidential candidates are saying.

A look at the numbers
The Washington Post took a nationwide poll earlier this month, measuring voter sentiment in the presidential race. The overall margin of error is 3 percent.

How the candidates stand
Social Security and retirement

In election year, voting is your most important decision
It's primary election day as I write this, and soon my wife and I will be heading for the polls.

Patronage was the name of the game then, and a change in political power meant changes all the way down to the local level in terms of government jobs. So my father, good Democrat that he was, got the nod for the postmaster's job in our town. Receiving a regular salary from the government was far better than piling up IOUs in the garage business.

In large part because of his political affiliation, he not only got that job running the post office but also held onto it as the Democrats and Roosevelt held onto the White House into the 1940s.

I suppose, if nothing else, all of this welded me to the Democrats during my formative years, and those early ties have stuck with me. I have not, however, always been a straight-ticket voter.

I can remember back in the '30s, and maybe the '40s, when it was common for both Democrats and Republicans to simply mark their ballots at the top of their party's column, thus voting automatically for every Democrat or Republican on the ballot. I'm not sure you can do that with voting machines. At least, I never have. Unless you are politically blind, I believe you can always see a reason to vote for someone who is not a member of your party. Sometimes a candidate you like belongs to neither major party.

I have left the party of my youth a couple of times in presidential elections, and my wife has yet to forgive me for the last instance. That was when I voted for John Anderson, a Republican turned Independent, thus rejecting Jimmy Carter. In her view, I, along with about 6-million other voters, accomplished nothing but to ensure the election of Ronald Reagan, something no real Democrat would intend to do.

If we look hard and long enough, we can always find a reason not to vote for any candidate. My grandfather is a case in point. I can remember being on leave from the Navy and visiting with him at the nursing home where he lived during the 1948 campaign, in which Republican Thomas E. Dewey was running against Harry S Truman, a Democrat.

"I wouldn't vote for that Dewey if for no other reason than his mustache," my grandfather said. "It shows he had a weak mouth."

I couldn't help but smile, and a photograph came immediately to mind. It was a picture of my Grandad Pendergraft and his family orchestra. There he stood, holding his horn, looking proud as a peacock, with a mustache that would have dwarfed the one Dewey was sporting.

When you folks go to the polls in a few short weeks, I'm sure you won't be making choices based on a candidate's personal appearance. But please remember to vote. That is what's important.

- You can write to Jay Horning c/o Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Or send e-mail to

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