Although some people are not yet paying close attention, this is an election year. Every election is important, but there are a number of critical races at stake this year in Maine. Not only is it important for the electorate to begin paying attention, it also is time the candidates started paying attention to their constituents and the issues important to them, as opposed to one another.
While there has been lots of debate about whether, when and how often to debate, wouldn’t you rather see the candidates debating about real issues impacting real Mainers? I certainly would.
These issues are both pressing and particular. Maine is the oldest state in the country, with 50 people turning age 65 every day. Some of the most important issues in Maine are those that affect older residents, and, at AARP Maine, we know what these issues are and how voters feel about them. We know because we asked.
AARP recently released the results of a comprehensive survey conducted among 2,000 registered Maine voters who are age 50 and older to ascertain their concerns and what they would like candidates for public office to address this year. The Maine public is ready. They know what they want to hear, but are the candidates responding?
To be fair, candidates are graciously completing AARP voter guide questionnaires, and their responses will be widely distributed this fall. Additionally, some candidates have shared their positions on topical issues through letters to the editor and OpEd columns.
Yet, the custom of standing before voters and challenging viewpoints directly is a grand old American tradition. From Lincoln-Douglas to Kennedy-Nixon, no side has an intrinsic advantage. In fact, one of these historic debates produced a Republican president, the other, a Democrat.
Mainers have said they will vote for candidates who support issues of concern to older adults and their families, which include: financial security, dependable access to health care, aging in place, care for caregivers and protection from fraud and abuse. Older Mainers also advocate protecting Social Security — the sole source of income for a third of all Mainers over age 65 — and Medicare.
It is relatively easy for candidates to say privately that they “support older voters,” but what happens when such assertions are challenged in public? How will candidates specifically address critical issues such as aging with dignity, financial security and access to health care?
Mainers age 50 and older vote. Recent research suggests that as many as 80-85 percent of Mainers over 50 — and even higher percentages of those over 65 — will vote this November. Either major political party would be thrilled to have a third of their members turn out for this election.
Older Mainers matter, and the issues that concern us are the issues upon which the election will likely be decided. Isn’t it time the candidates started to let us see directly what they will do for us, and how? We need to hear how our candidates respond when probed by people who either disagree with them or who simply want them to clarify their positions or provide more detail.
It is time for the candidates to address the people they wish to serve. All voters, no matter their age, deserve to hear from them. It is time to refocus the candidate debate away from political posturing in favor of political responsibility.
Rich Livingston of Auburn is AARP Maine volunteer state president.