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November 1, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
What goes through voters’ minds in Columbia as Election Day gets closer?
For the MU senior who wears her “Spence for Governor” T-shirt with pride, it’s the state of the economy. A veterinarian worries about escalating debt and the social safety net. A formerly unemployed auto worker considers Obama a blessing for the retraining benefits that brought him a new career. A Dominican brother is keeping his choice a secret.Related Articles
Elections are often seen as political party battles, but the following eight stories prove otherwise. The reasoning behind their decisions are as diverse as the voters themselves. Regardless of their individual choices, these citizens reflect the thoughts and emotions of this year’s election.
Brian Blair balances his two sons on each knee as they take turns playing a game on his cellphone. A devoted father and respiratory therapist, Blair, 41, spends most of his time focused on the physical health of the people in his life.
“I believe that the economy is based on middle-class health,” Blair says. “If we’re healthy and we have money to spend, demand goes up on more products, and jobs get created here.”
This is one of the reasons why Blair will not be happy if Mitt Romney is elected. He doesn’t think that Romney will create enough jobs for the middle class and doesn’t agree with the candidate’s history of outsourcing jobs overseas.
After losing his position at Chrysler more than two years ago, Blair was forced to go on unemployment and made only $143 a week. Embarrassed by their financial predicament, he and his family shopped at Wal-Mart at 3 a.m. to avoid the judgmental stares and eye rolls they received when using food stamps.
“At one time, I estimated that I had over 700 applications and résumés out and not one phone call,” Blair says.
After two years of surviving on welfare and the free schooling he received from government retraining benefits, Blair finally became a respiratory therapist.
“When Barack Obama says he wants to give you a chance, you know he did give me a chance,” Blair says. “If it wasn’t for government assistance, I wouldn’t be a respiratory therapist.”
+ HOLLAND BAKER
When it comes to politics, Carrie Barton is passionate. An MU senior, Barton is thrilled to be voting for the first time this November. She’s also prepared.
Barton, 21, worked for Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence over the summer, and it improved her awareness of what she believes are major issues in the economy.
“While I respect the opinion of those who place high value on social issues, my main focus is those of the economy,” Barton says, wearing her “Spence for Governor” T-shirt with pride. “It is finally becoming reality that economic policy decisions affect my future.”
Barton believes if Obama is re-elected, this term will just be a repeat of the past four years — making promises without carrying them out. Barton is unnerved about the unemployment rate for recent graduates and hopes for a change in not only Missouri but also for the rest of the United States.
While working for Spence, Barton made more than 8,000 phone calls to Missouri voters to inform them about the candidate’s stance on multiple issues. Working for a politician gave Barton the confidence to converse with adults about topics she probably wouldn’t have been aware of a few years ago.
“The whole experience of meeting people (working for Spence) has been refreshing and eye-opening, and I have met some brilliant and passionate people along the way,” Barton says. She says that Spence and Romney have a record in business and creating jobs. “They are the type of people who can succeed in the private sector, which is not easy to do in the United States.”
+ OLIVIA FRAME
During an exit interview after completing her nursing degree in 1977, Linda Hayes heard a message that stuck with her to this day. The director of the nursing program told Hayes and her fellow graduates to keep working to get the Equal Rights Amendment approved.
Although the 89-year-old amendment still hasn’t passed, Hayes, 59, works closely with organizations that promote equality.
When her son came out as gay 20 years ago at age 16, Hayes got involved with Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, which educates the public about sexual orientation rights and provides a supportive environment for young people who are gay. She is currently the mid-Missouri chapter president.
Hayes, who calls herself a recovering Republican, says the stakes have never been higher for the LGBTQ community. Her biggest concern is that progress made by the Obama administration in overturning the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy could be rolled back if a new president is elected.
“My dad and husband are retired military,” Hayes says. “Both of them say there have always been gays in the military. Since President Clinton enacted ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ we have been asking them to lie about who they are.”
Regardless of which candidate gets elected, Hayes remains devoted to her organization’s mission.
Hayes knows that educating the public is the group’s first concern, but depending on the outcome of the election, spreading the word could get more difficult.
+ ZACH MILLER
Inside the International Community Church, Adam Leong sits with his hands folded on a table and stares at a full wall of books as he thinks about the upcoming election. The 27-year-old campus minister at Asian Christian Fellowship seems absorbed in contemplation before finally speaking in a calm demeanor. “God is neither Republican nor Democrat, so neither party is perfect,” he says.
God might be nonpartisan, but Leong has his own preference. Growing up in California, which tends to lean left, Leong has always been a Democrat and will vote for Obama again this year. He sides with Obama’s economic and social plans, such as Jumpstart Our Business Startups, that ensure public funds go to those who need it.
“Some would look at the situation and say that President Obama hasn’t done anything to fix the economy,” Leong says. “I’d say that he actually did a lot to stop the backsliding from the Bush era. For Gov. Romney wanting to return to many of those policies, it would actually be detrimental to our country.”
Although the progress made under Obama’s government didn’t happen as quickly as some would have liked, it is at least happening, Leong says.
If Romney is elected, Leong would be disappointed. It would affect his trust in the government, especially when it comes to taking care of people in America. But ultimately, he will leave it to God.
“It’s not like if you vote for one party and one party wins, then suddenly God is with the nation, and if the other party wins, then God isn’t,” he says. “Regardless of who’s in power, we as followers of Jesus should do our best to sacrificially love one another.”
+ CHO LING NGAI
Brother Edward van Merrienboer has been a Dominican brother for 49 years. Driven by the responsibility he feels as a Catholic citizen, he will be voting in this year’s presidential election.
“As a Catholic, our teachings hold there’s a moral responsibility for us to vote,” he says. “It’s an obligation that we participate and seek the common good.” His ideal candidate is one who promotes human dignity, offers assistance to those in need, focuses on religious freedom without prejudice and peace, not wars.
He admits that both candidates have deficiencies. He must think critically and determine who comes closest to his criteria. As a Dominican brother, however, he cannot say which candidate he will choose because he doesn’t want to suggest any sort of political sway in the church.
After spending nine years in Italy, van Merrienboer, 69, experienced a different approach to democracy. “I think a multi-party system has something to be said for it,” he says. “When you start having five and six parties, (they) have to sit down and talk to each other and make a government. I believe that’s how the process of republic order is achieved for the good of many.”
Even if people don’t feel strongly toward either candidate, van Merrienboer encourages everyone to vote, and he considers those who don’t to be cowards. He references a scene from Dante’s Divine Comedy in which Dante goes to the Inferno and sees people, even popes, rolling boulders from one side of the room to the other in the fires of hell. Dante learns that these humans could not make a decision.
Brother van Merrienboer isn’t interested in rolling boulders for eternity.
+ AMBER MEATTE
Schenell Saladin is the only member of her family who can vote. Her Trinidadian mother and Dominican father chose to keep their citizenship in their native countries. They have lived in the U.S. for decades, but don’t cast their ballots here.
Even though Saladin’s mother pushed her to register to vote, the 28-year-old makes election decisions for herself and no one else. When Obama first ran for president, a lot of people encouraged her to support him simply because he is a minority. In the end, Obama got her vote, but not because he is black. “That is a horrible reason to vote anyone into office to run our country,” Saladin says. She voted for him because she liked his ideology.
Saladin has never voted for a Republican candidate in a presidential election, but she insists that she is not a single-ticket voter; she thinks that’s stupid. She researches policies and doesn’t want to be a follower.
“With the choices I have, which are unfortunate, I will be voting for Obama,” Saladin says with a laugh. She feels that Obama is the lesser of two evils because Romney seems completely out of touch with middle-class America. But she has issues with Obama, too.
Growing up with parents who came to the U.S. legally and worked hard for what they have makes Saladin think Obama’s immigration policies are too relaxed. She doesn’t support Obama’s welfare policies either and says they allow people to be lazy. But the bottom line for Saladin is that Obama is less of a threat to the country. “It’s the overall package,” she says. “It’s not just because he’s Democrat.”
+ SKYLER STILL
He has not decided which candidate he’ll vote for, but Rose is going to choose the man who he believes is the most concerned about the well-being of the country.
Rose, 49, is a fiscal conservative who worries about excessive spending and escalating debt, but he also believes the government’s social programs have a role in helping those in need. “As I’ve worked with the public school system, I’ve come to see how important it is to have that support for the public,” he says. “Everyone’s not going to be able to achieve that American dream. Programs that maintain the public funding for what’s needed to provide for all are important.”
But the government should proceed with caution, he says. If too many dollars were returned to social programs, then the government would only be running away from the problems rather than addressing them. He stresses the importance of concentrating on domestic issues first even though these policies seem to be determined more so by Congress than the president.
Because the president’s commander-in-chief powers are so immense, Rose believes electing a strong leader is essential. “(Presidents) can make a split decision and affect what’s happening overseas,” he says. Even with his conservative background, Rose believes that both candidates are capable of being excellent leaders.
Rose’s understanding of a community in need will factor into his vote as he decides which candidate can bring this country out of its economic rut.
+ AMBER MEATTE
So what will you do if the other guy wins?
Trey Sprick isn’t afraid to sit in silence while processing his thoughts. No uncomfortable giggles, awkward “ums” or placeholder sentences escape his lips. No need to fill the silence. After 10 seconds, he looks forward and answers.
“There is no other guy,” he says.
Sprick, 19, is the president of Tigers Against Partisan Politics, an MU organization aimed at educating voters on all issues. The organization isn’t against political parties; instead, it tries to advocate against people blindly voting based on partisanship.
Sprick often puts his personal opinions aside in order to educate students on important issues rather than each candidate’s political strategies.
“It’s a really useful skill to have to be able to talk people off the ledge,” Sprick says. “I’m not going to say that you’re wrong, but I don’t want you to say that anyone else is intrinsically wrong, either.”
Sprick says all he can do is hope the next president does what’s best for the country. He believes this means a redefinition of the role of federal government, a definition he says both parties have gotten wrong.
“Politics in America is such that there’s really no way to know what a candidate is going to do in office,” Sprick says. “I am going to support whomever becomes president and find ways to advocate to him or to Congress things that I want done.”
+ JESSICA LUECK