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|Not Voting Is Un-American|
|Commentary/Politics - Editorials|
|Thursday, 18 October 2001 18:00|
Hearty congratulations to the 10,793 voters who managed to vote in last week’s primary election. Those 10,793 voters represent approximately 17% of Davenport’s 64,361 registered voters. This means that less than 20% of Davenport’s population decided for us all which candidates will actually run for city government.
Nothing on this earth could be more un-American than such apathetic neglect of one’s civic duty.
In a time when one of the worst tragedies to occur on American soil has devastated our sense of security in an overt attempt to undermine our very way of life, perhaps the single most important action each American can take to preserve our freedom, our sense of place, and our sovereign right to help direct our country’s destiny is to vote. Our local elections directly impact our daily lives. Local elections are a microcosm of our state and national elections, and they matter more in some ways. Yet 83% of Davenport’s voters stayed away from the polls last Tuesday. By abdicating their civic responsibility to vote, these citizens endorsed the various political views of a select few who did show up at the polls to cast their ballots.
When will it sink in with Davenport voters that by not voting, they are nothing but a herd with no voice, no influence, and certainly little significance to elected officials, who know that the only constituency they must satisfy is a meager 17% of the voter body. That order is not very tough to fill. All the campaign strategists know this fact. They need only target the small group of voters who actually bother to vote, directing all their marketing resources toward this very specific demographic. The result is the narrow few controlling the broad whole. Does this bother Davenport voters? Not in the least. They are content to be a herd rather than a viable, productive, meaningful community of citizens who want a say in how they are governed. They obviously prefer being a silent herd, declining to engage in even the simplest task of voting to create change.
Those of us who vote are happy to tell those of you who don’t what to do, where to do it, when and how to do it. We have no problem spending your money however we chose, on whatever we see fit, for as long as we want. After all, we have the full cooperation of the majority of Davenport citizens, who by their lack of civic participation in the election process clearly declare their disinterest in such matters. The non-voters are content to be left alone, not to have to move from their own comfortable surroundings, to perform even the most rudimentary American act of voting. By example, they are ensuring that their children operate in the same dysfunctional way. By not voting themselves, parents are sending the message that such participation does not matter, has no significance, and is a waste of time.
Unfortunately, these citizens risk the very freedom that is ensured by the democratic process of voting. For every vote not cast in America, whether local, state, or national, there exists a tiny bit of erosion of our American way of life. Shame on Davenport’s consistent and significant contribution to such civic erosion.
What will it take to turn this lack of voting around? If we do nothing else in the next few weeks, we must redeem our citizenship by at least voting. We will have two more opportunities to exercise our civic duty—Tuesday, October 23, in the referendum for the $5 million in county bonds for the River Renaissance project; and Tuesday, November 6, for the general election to elect a new mayor and city council. Two more candidate forums will take place: one hosted by the QC Times on Thursday, October 25, in Galvin Fine Arts Auditorium at St. Ambrose University at 7pm; and another hosted by WQPT on a date still to be established. The Reader will be participating in both forums.
Many people justify not voting because they don’t care for the candidates, or they don’t know enough about them. This is no excuse. There is plenty of information available about the candidates and the issues. Also, voters always have the option of writing in a candidate. The key is showing up. There is certain and meaningful power in just showing up and voting, one way or the other. It is individual and unique power given to every American who is registered to vote. We should take such a right very seriously, guarding it and utilizing it with the respect such privilege deserves.
What Is at Stake?
As the editor of the Reader, I have examined much of the opposition’s information against the River Renaissance project, which lists concerns, some more legitimate than others. In almost all cases, the underpinning concern appears to be accountability for taxpayers’ dollars. I certainly understand such concern. It isn’t completely resolved to date how accountability for the project will be governed. But instead of assuming that accountability won’t exist and opposing the project, opponents should instead be insisting on assurances that it will and looking for ways to engage in the oversight process so this dynamic project can move forward with community consensus.
From day one, I have supported River Renaissance because I believe it will bring the necessary revitalization to our flagship downtown. While I have some reservations about various aspects, I recognize the unprecedented opportunity to leverage private investment against public expenditures for the redevelopment of Davenport’s downtown that clearly favors the taxpayers. We cannot turn this financial opportunity down.
This does not mean carte-blanche spending for developers’ gain at taxpayers’ expense. With Vision Iowa’s oversight, taxpayers have several built-in checks and balances against financial abuse. If the voters approve the referendum on October 23, then negotiations will begin to draft a contract between the city and Vision Iowa on the rules of the project. This is where the accountability will be structured into the funding itself. Because it is state funding, it is automatically available for public scrutiny. Also, no money will be forthcoming until the various components of the project are actually completed. These are just a few of the ways to avoid financial mishaps.
The merits of the various components of the entire $113 million River Renaissance project will be refined once the commitments for funding are completed. The last step in this process is the referendum on October 23. What is at stake is the project as a whole, which brings with it a synergy not otherwise present. The city has already committed to the Figge Arts Center, and to two parking ramps. With the Vision Iowa money, we can expand on these anchors to create a more complete overhaul of downtown. The proposed additional amenities will enhance the Figge Arts Center (the Arts Walk, the expansion of the Adler for performance arts, the Kaleidoscope project, and the River Music History Center) and provide for a cultural amenity base that will attract tourists and visitors, as well as residents, to a more vibrant downtown. Perhaps more importantly, it has been clearly identified that such a dynamic base of cultural amenities is critically necessary to attract business and industry to a community. Without it, Davenport would not be in the running for any significant future growth.
Meanwhile the proposed Ag-Tech Venture Capital Center has the potential to connect these amenities to a truly viable economic anchor (if done correctly), stimulating incremental business development, urban housing, and establishing an economic justification for a vital transit system both internally and externally. With such local investment comes new outside investment. Corporations looking for satellite locations or new homes altogether would find Midwestern work and family values, along with affordable living, economies of scale, and geographic advantages (I-80, the Mississippi River, and the new QC Metropolitan Airport which is also a Port Authority) within a mecca of arts and culture second to none for the area’s size and density. Couple this new base of amenities (with all the community-based programming) in our downtown with the ready-to-roll industrial park north of town, complete with a vocational training center tailored to an industrial prospect’s needs, and we have some serious economic clout with which to market Davenport, especially within the context of the Quad City area as a whole.
This is a project worth embracing. Full accountability and reasonable disclosure must be implemented to ensure that we get what we pay for. City Administrator Craig Malin said, “As long as I draw breath and am employed by the City of Davenport, I will ensure to the best of my ability that all the entities live up to their promises.” With this kind of commitment on the part of city government, business leaders, and a willing public, a prosperous future for Davenport is not only possible, it is eminent. Please get out and vote “yes” for River Renaissance on October 23 and make it happen.
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