Rich Livingston: Come on, folks, pay attention

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It has been pretty widely acknowledged that Maine is the oldest state, per capita, in the country, and getting older every day. Folks over 50 comprise 52 percent of the economy of Maine, and we are likely to represent an even greater percentage of those who will actually vote in the coming election.

AARP conducted a major survey among not just our own 231,000 members here in Maine, but all registered voters in the state past the age of 50, a couple of months ago, and we reaffirmed the importance of older Mainers’ issues to the broad electorate: financial and health security; protecting (not privatizing) Social Security and Medicare, without diminishing benefits, for future generations as well as our own; the ability to age in place, to stay in our own homes and communities; support for family caregivers; and access to reliable, affordable support services.

And yet, this deep into the election (and debate) season, the candidates for statewide office — and for the Legislature, for that matter — have not been challenged much to talk about how they will address the issues most important to what is arguably their most important constituency.

In the rhetorical race to spin language about “jobs and the economy,” there is lots of talk about keeping young people in Maine, and attracting more of them to come here. But the 50-plus cohort is already here, and we represent more wealth, more philanthropy, more consumer spending and, by our actions, are responsible for more jobs than any other demographic group.

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Yet let’s be clear — this is not a battle of the generations. Mainers who are in the 50-plus group remain a significant component of the workforce and we are responsible for more small business start-ups than any other demographic group. The health and prosperity of Maine’s economy is directly related to the health and prosperity of all of us and we deserve the attention of those who are asking for our votes.

AARP is rigorously non-partisan. We do not endorse candidates, nor do we contribute money to their campaigns. We focus entirely on the issues important to people aged 50 and older, and we try to help our members understand what candidates would do to help address our specific issues.

We are distributing voters’ guides to the district and statewide candidates’ positions, but the candidates own language is not nearly as detailed as we would like to see it. We have specific questions, and we would like specific answers.

In an effort to not offend anyone, candidates try to be as generic as possible in their stump speeches. In their constant fixation on the subject of “limited resources,” they often suggest that there might be some inherent competition between generations.

There is not.

What works for older Mainers will be good for the state; for our economy, our health and well-being, for our ability to attract and retain younger folks while capitalizing on the contributions of our seniors.

We are, after all, all in this together.

AARP-Maine has nearly as many members as either the Republican or Democratic party, but the difference is that our members vote. Mainers past the age of 50 will determine the outcome of the elections. Add to that, that here in the 2nd congressional district, we have the unusual opportunity of an open seat, with no defending incumbent. We can control our own political destiny.

We need to encourage everyone to ask the candidates to be specific about what they intend to do for us, and more particularly: how.

AARP-Maine is in the midst of a 1,300-mile, 24-stop state-wide voter engagement tour, and that journey will end on Election Night, right here in Lewiston, with a “watch party” at Baxter Brewing in Bates Mill. That night is not so much the end of the campaign as it will be the beginning of the need to govern, and we intend to hold all those elected accountable to the pledges they make during the campaign.

In the meantime, we would like them to commit to detailed positions regarding those things important to 50-plus Mainers. We are asking for the public’s help engaging the candidates in our conversations, and then reminding them what it is they have committed to do for us.

Rich Livingston is the volunteer state president of AARP-Maine.

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