It is important to get informed, involved

Published 7:07 am Wednesday, August 9, 2000

By By Sonny Callahan
U.S. Representative
As a general rule, when Congress breaks for the annual August recess, it gives Members a chance to spend a little time back home with their families and constituents before the final push comes and our legislative business is wrapped up for the year. 
As you may know, the new fiscal year for the federal government begins every October. This deadline requires Congress to hit the ground running when we return to Washington after Labor Day, if for no other reason than to finish work on the 13 appropriations bills.  
(In the House, we've already completed work on 12 of the 13 appropriations bills, making the October 1 deadline a more realistic possibility than in some years.)
An exception to the August District Work Period schedule is made every four years when the two major political parties hold their national conventions, the purpose of which is to nominate their respective candidates to run for  president and vice president of the United States.
While I make every attempt to keep the nature of this column as non-partisan as possible given the fact it is mailed at taxpayers' expense   I must admit it is kind of strange to have served in the House with at least two of the four candidates running for the two highest offices in the land.  
Both Al Gore and Dick Cheney were Members of Congress when I came to Washington in January, 1985. 
One currently holds the office of vice president of the United States and is seeking a promotion; the other may well become the next vice president of the United States.
I must admit when I was driving a truck fifty some years ago, you'd have had a hard time convincing me or certainly any of my friends that one day I'd be able to say I know a potential president or vice president on a first-name basis.
That said, the just completed Republican Convention in Philadelphia reminded me of the greatness of what America is and can be.  To be fair, the Democratic Convention, to be held next week in Los Angeles, will do much the same.
For regardless which political stripes you choose to wear, the process of choosing  a presidential nominee is proof positive that our system works.
Fortunately, in the United States we don't need  machine guns or a coup d'etat to ensure the orderly transition from one administration to another.
The inauguration of the 43rd President of the United States doesn't come until Saturday, Jan. 20, 2001.  Between now and then, there's a little thing called an election, to be held on Tuesday, Nov. 7, which will actually determine the winners and losers.
But the two political conventions held this  summer signal in earnest that an end is in sight to the policies of the current administration. (Some people will no doubt celebrate this news with tears of joy; for others, there will be tears of sorrow).
As I noted earlier, this isn't an opinion piece on why you should vote for Bush or Gore (or Nader or Buchanan or anyone else for that matter).
But it is a sincere plea to each and every person in south Alabama that now is the time to start paying attention to what, in all honesty, is a very important decision.
In the June primary, only 23 percent of the 2.7 million registered voters in Alabama took time to actually go to the polls and vote. 
Three weeks later, when some of the candidates were forced to face each other in a runoff election, a mere 9.5 percent of all registered voters took time to show up and cast their ballot.
Why is this troublesome, you ask?
Quite simply: if we don't take the time to get informed and involved in the political process, we might wake up one day and find that some of the many freedoms and liberties we all-too-often take for granted no longer exist.
Nationally, the trend among registered voters is just as alarming as are the statistics in Alabama.  
For instance, in the 1992 presidential election, 55 percent of all registered voters showed up to cast their ballots.  Just four years later, in 1996, only 49 percent voted.
Friends, the election of our political leaders is too important to allow it to become a spectator sport.  
Sadly, the high mark for voter participation in recent years was in 1960, when almost 63 percent of the voting age population turned out to vote.  And yet, in a recent referendum in Quebec on the question of autonomy, more than 95 percent of the people turned out to vote.
As I stated at the outset, this column isn't intended to cast one candidate in a more favorable light than the other. 
But it is an invitation, extended with all due consideration, to urge your active participation in the political process.
There are so many important issues which will be determined in large part by whether or not you decide to get involved or stay at home.  What better time to answer the call President Kennedy made 40 years ago when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

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