Steed on voter apathy and lobbyist power

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In 1980, Congressman Tom Steed was interviewed at Rose State College and had something very sensible to say about the way decreasing voter participation empowers pressure groups. (Found on the Democrats of Oklahoma Community Forum.)

Well, you really struck a nerve with me there because my pet-peeve is the fact that people won't vote. And I have studied it. I've talked to a lot of authorities and there's a lot of people concerned about it all over the nation. And so I've actually come to the conclusion that there's no more insidious enemy my country has than a person who will not vote.

Now, as the vote went down and down over these years, the pressure groups in Washington went up and up and up. Where there used to be a page of them in the telephone book in Washington, now there's many pages. Everybody has a pressure group.

Well, finally the Congressman who votes for what's right and antagonizes one or more of these pressure groups comes home and finds that most of the people that he represents and that he did that for won't even bother to vote. He has no protection. And off goes his head. Well Joe Doaks sees Bill Spivey get it in the neck, so the next time, he gets cautious. And it's a growing sickness.

I don't know how to make people vote. Now in the bicentennial year, we got together, we raised money, we put on a special drive. We had the help of all the media and everybody else. No one was against it. We finally got 55 percent of the eligible voters in Oklahoma to register and we got 94 percent of the 55 percent to vote. And we led the nation - in our bicentennial year. Number one in the nation - in citizenship! Did you hear anything about it? Any hats go up in the air? Have you seen any chamber of commerce slogans or anything? If we were number one in football, maybe we'd a heard a lot, but not on citizenship.

Now after that, I said, well, I don't know, I give up. If that won't set the state on fire, I don't know what you could do. But it's a sad thing and I never pass up an opportunity to scold people because they won't go vote.

When ordinary people don't pay attention and don't support officials who put their interests first, voters are swayed by the ads purchased by various pressure groups. Elected officials learn to fear the pressure groups rather than their own voters.

I think that goes a long way toward explaining how the current ill-conceived river tax increase found its way to the ballot.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 4, 2007 10:16 AM.

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