Geezers Will Always Have Their Say

Sixteen months separate us from general election day 2012, but political storm clouds stretch from Hawaii to upstate New York. Many of them take the configuration of angry old geezers staring down on politicians gone mad.

Consider the case of Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a certified old geezer himself.

The newly elected, 72-year-old chief executive, faced with a $1.3 billion state budget deficit, had the temerity to suggest that along with a soda pop tax, an alcohol tax and raids on a couple of special funds, the state should tax retirement income. House and Senate money committees agreed in principle.

Then Barbara Kim Stanton, executive director of AARP Hawaii chapter, marshaled her forces and descended on the Capitol. Needless to say, a pension tax was nowhere to be found in the final budget passed by the state Legislature.


Because we old folks vote. Boy, do we ever vote! We vote more than young people, more than middle-aged people, more than people of any particular race, color or creed. And AARP is there to remind politicians of that whenever and wherever it deigns to suggest legislation favorable, or unfavorable, to our welfare.

Every pol I know seems to have gotten the message – all save Abercrombie and many of the Republican persuasion. The price of not getting it was on display in upstate New York. There, in a district that had been represented in Congress by a Republican for the past 40 years, Democrat Kathy Hochul upset Republican Jane Corwin in a special election.

The issue was, as Democrats like to put it, “Medicare as we know it.” Majority Republicans in the House sent to the Senate a budget bill that included Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s so-called reform of Medicare. It would end fee-for-service Medicare and replace it with a voucher system designed more to save the federal government money rather than provide medical care for the elderly.

Old folks don’t like Ryan’s plan. Since its passage in the mid-1960s, Medicare has become a massively popular program among the 65-and-over crowd. Even 67-year-old Newt Gingrich, to his peril among the Republican establishment, dismissed Ryan’s proposal. And the day after Hochul’s victory in upstate New York, six Republicans joined 51 majority Senate Democrats in defeating the House budget bill.

By 2012, the Medicare reform cloud lurking over the Republicans has the potential to touch down and become a tornado. If it does, their plans to take control of the Senate would be thwarted, and they would lose a significant number of the House seats they picked up in last year’s mid-term elections.

Another cloud dims the political sky over Hawaii.

It was very much in evidence in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser‘s mid-May Hawaii Poll. Gov. Abercrombie’s approval rating stood at just 50 percent (a Daily Kos poll a week earlier put it at 48 percent), and in horse race polls former Republican governor Linda Lingle lost to all five potential Democratic candidates for the Senate seat being vacated by Dan Akaka in 2010. Four of them beat her by a minimum of 15 percentage points.

Why these poor gubernatorial numbers? No candidate, Republican or Democrat, who – up close and in our face – has to struggle with our current wretched state economy is going to win favor with voters. For Lingle, it meant forever being associated with two words: “Furlough Fridays.” For Abercrombie, it’s “taxing our pensions” or “taking away our excise tax exemptions” or … you choose.

Don’t believe it? Check the potential Democratic Senate candidates who led the Hawaii poll: Ed Case (with 26 percent) and Mazie Hirono (with 25). The first hasn’t held public office since 2006, and the one he held was in far-off Washington, D.C. Hirono was out of office from 2002 to 2006, and she’s been hunkered down in Congress since then.

The political weather forecast? Cloudy with constant showers – on the good days.