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Senior Power : Old enough to make a difference?

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Friday October 15, 2010 - 04:39:00 PM

Ten years ago there were 3,595,658 persons aged 65 and older living in California-- 10.6% of the population. T he Berkeley Daily Planet (November 1, 2000) front-paged my “Old enough to make a difference” article regarding the then-upcoming election.  

I contended that senior citizens would make a difference on election day in November 2000. I asked a diverse group of seniors about their voting preferences and concerns. Ten years ago most opposed State Proposition 38, school vouchers, but supported Berkeley Measures R, the warm water pool, eviction controls and County Measure B/transportation funding. No one mentioned Bush-Gore.  

Several of my interviewees from 2000 are no longer. Joe Dallas, a World War II Merchant Marine veteran, declared firmly that he never voted, didn’t believe in it. He had bought the argument that one’s vote doesn’t matter. Nancy Blumenstock, a founding mother of Berkeley-based Editcetera, a former UC Press editor with World War II top secret clearance, was voting by absentee ballot for Berkeley Measures R “extremely important,” she said, “...although I doubt it would protect me, a project-based Section 8 tenant.” About State Proposition 36/drug treatment and probation instead of incarceration, Nancy believed “jail serves no purpose whatever.” About County Measure B, “I am disabled and rely on taxi scrip.” Did she listen to the Presidential debates? She “carefully avoided them!”  

As for me in 2000, I had already voted, using the then-new electronic voting machine at the City Clerk’s office. The City Clerk’s office will not be functioning as a polling place in 2010, although there is a ballot box where people can drop off their vote-by-mail ballots if they wish. Although the primary voting system is a hand-marked ballot read by a scanner, there should also be a touch-screen machine at polling places. For more information on voting as well as Berkeley’s quick link to Election Information, consult the County Registrar of Voters website. . 

A decade later, Election Day, November 2, 2010 looms, and again I am informally surveying seniors’ preferences and voting plans. Now there are 4,139,706 persons who are 65 years old and older living in California-- 11.2% of the population… plus boomers. (The U. S. Census Bureau considers a baby boomer to be someone born during the demographic birth boom between 1946 and 1964.)  

At the end of September 2010, eighty year old Dorothy Bryant responds that she votes by mail (not “absentee”, she reminds me). She lives in Council District #3, which is not involved in this election. (Districts 1,4,7 and 8 are.) Dorothy usually votes ‘yes’ on anything for schools. She is not retired – “still writing” – although not involved in volunteer activities. She regularly attends George Yoshida’s Tai Chi class at South Berkeley Senior Center. 

One of my senior sources is despondent about seniors’ lack of power and responds: “I am afraid that the midterm voting doesn't really stir me. I am always an independent skeptic and more so when I look at the current political scene. Just look at the North Berkeley Senior Center management and see the terrible triumph of bureaucratic indifference and complacency. … prefer to work outside the system altogether.” 

I query a 53 year old boomer (considers himself “near-senior disabled”) who does not vote absentee because “I don't know who is recommended in the small elections until the last minute.” He’s not that enthusiastic in the Brown/Whitman and Boxer/Fiorina arena – doesn’t want to see the election “bought.” Feels better about Boxer than Brown, however. Will be voting for Kriss Worthington. When able, volunteer activities involve him in low-income tenant organizing. 

Eighty-four year old, retired Harry Siitonen lives in Strawberry Creek Lodge, doesn’t attend senior centers regularly, and votes by mail. His volunteer activities relate to labor and the community. “On elections, I'm registered Peace& Freedom and will vote for most of its state candidates to help keep the party on the ballot. But in the case of Governor and Senator I'll opt for Brown and Boxer this time because the races are too close to call. I enjoyed a recent headline: ‘Dems to Voters: You May Hate Us But the GOP Is Worse.’ Pretty much sums up my sentiments.” Although not a resident of Kriss Worthington’s Council district (#4), Harry had just sent him a campaign contribution because “he’s up against stiff opposition. Hope to send Jesse Arreguin one too. Kriss and Jesse are the only true progressives on the Council. On local Propositions, I intend to vote NO on R [downtown area plan]. It's a developer scam supported by the Bates machine. The rest I'll need to study in more detail before deciding.”  

Lavender Seniors’ Pam Spevack is seventy years old, from Oakland, “still working in social services.” When asked about “Whitman or Brown? Fiorina or Boxer? et al,” Pam declared “NONE of these; you left out the other Parties which I find offense and damaging to democracy. The Green Party has wonderful candidates, you need to be more informed! Many are in Berkeley…” Regarding Measure S - Tax on Cannabis Businesses: “yes tax it”. Regarding Measure T - Amendments to Medical Cannabis Regulations: “not sure, but Yes on 19, why did you not include the state Proposition too?”  

Gray Panthers activist Avis Worthington votes in person. Seventy-nine and retired, she’s involved, she says, in “too many” volunteer activities. Again, it’s Brown and Boxer. Her thinking on Berkeley General Municipal measures: She’s planning on voting for Measure R – a Downtown Area Plan; S – Tax on Cannabis businesses; T Amendments to Medical Cannabis Regulations; H School facilities parcel tax; and I School facilities bond “if it doesn’t cause more bond interest debt payments than we can afford.” 

Be sure to read Lydia Gans’ “ Draconian Budget Cuts to Senior and Disabled Programs ” in last week’s Planet, posted on Wednesday, October 13, 2010. 


All candidates had the opportunity to provide Senior Power readers, by October 13, a statement of their platforms regarding senior citizens, and if running for re-election, highlights of their record on issues important to seniors. I received two responses: one from Boxer’s campaign and one from candidate Hashimoto. What, if anything, does this response say about candidates? That they don’t read newspapers? … don’t read the weekly Berkeley Daily Planet online newspaper? …don’t read columns? That they don’t recruit capable campaign staffers? That they don’t regard the concerns of senior citizens as highly as those of other population segments? The answer probably is that they don’t read “Senior Power.” 

Barbara Boxer, Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate from California, provided two-pages describing “Highlights of Barbara Boxer’s record on issues important to seniors.” It includes having “voted against all efforts to privatize social security.” She “is a cosponsor of legislation to double to $2 billion the amount allocated to the National Institutes for Health for Alzheimer’s research;” cosponsored comprehensive legislation to crack down on elder abuse, which passed as part of the health care reform law. “The Elder Justice Act will increase prevention, detention and prosecution of these crimes.” She introduced the first amendments to close a gap in Medicare Part D coverage (the donut hole); voted against an effort to eliminate federal nursing home standards; and voted for an amendment to create a family caregiver tax credit. 

Gerald Hashimoto, Republican candidate, 9th Congressional District, wrote to Senior Power, “My website has 2 position papers relevant to senior citizens: ‘Social Security is Generational Theft’ and ‘How to Save Social Security.’ www.geraldforcongress.com, click on ‘Issues.’ Social Security and Medicare, right now, are OK. In a decade or two it will be broken and will not be able to keep up the checks. Current recipients and those about to retire must be grandfathered in. You are good. Your grandchildren and perhaps children, however, are a different story. We cannot afford to give them what current retirees are getting. Simply kicking up the eligibility age is the simplest solution. This is what we did during the Reagan Presidency … I would support doing it again. A more effective solution is to combine Medicare and Social Security and covert the combo away from a ‘defined benefits’ program into a ‘defined contribution’ plan, not unlike union retirement plans. It would be like a 401K: for each dollar you save, Uncle Sam will match it, up to a certain point. Then, when you retire, your money is your own and totally independent of the government. Voila: Uncle Sam no longer pays SSI or Medicare payments. This would also save current retirees, since the newer retirees would not need payments from the SSI Trust Fund, leaving all of the assets for those who are grandfathered in.”

Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) got it right: “I'm not an old, experienced hand at politics. But I am now seasoned enough to have learned that the hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning.” 

Elders in the news: 

Sixty-three year-old Mario Gomez, who suffers from silicosis, is the oldest of the 33 men who were trapped in La Mina San Jose (San Jose Mine), a Chilean gold and cooper mine. The ninth to be rescued in El Milagro en la Mina (Miracle in the Mine), he was the oldest and possibly the most experienced of the 33 miners trapped nearly a half-mile underground. A miner since he was twelve years old, Gomez is missing three fingers on his left hand from a mine accident. He suffers from silicosis, a lung disease common to miners. He made the ascent wearing an oxygen mask, and was already on antibiotics and medicine for a bronchial inflammation. He began to "feel strong explosions" in the shafts surrounding him, his sister said, and started panicking that another cave-in was imminent. "He said, 'They needed to get us out right away,' " his sister, Eva Gomez, 61, recounted after his rescue. When he finally surfaced, he dropped to the ground in prayer. His wife, Lila, who had been saying for weeks that she wanted Gomez to retire, reached down and lifted him up from his knees before he was hospitalized with pneumonia.  

Sixty-three year old Barnum Anthony Hornbeak pled guilty to killing his wife during a Cambodian good luck ceremony in their home. One count of second-degree murder was part of a plea bargain reached during proceedings in San Bernardino Superior Court. Family members had gathered for the religious ceremony. Hornbeak tried to ask his wife, 52-year-old Tha Vann, some questions, but she ignored him. Hornbeak walked out to his van, returned with a revolver, calmly shot his wife in the head, and called 9-1-1 to report that he had shot his wife. [“Man pleads guilty to wife's death during Cambodian ceremony” by Mike Cruz, October 10,2010 San Bernardino and the Inland Empire The Sun

The California Senior Legislature (CSL)’s annual legislative session takes place in Sacramento, Tuesday and Wednesday, October 26 – 28, 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Opening Ceremonies on Tuesday, October 26 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. are usually televised as well. Then on Thursday, October 28, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in the Assembly Chambers. Watch for replay on California Channel. 

Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at pen136@dslextreme.com  

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