Alliance for Retired Americans mobilizes in Portland area
They're 2.7 million strong and they're determined to make an impact on the 2002 election. And if past voting patterns are any indication, that's what the labor-backed Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA) will achieve.
The alliance was established last year to succeed the National Council of Senior Citizens. It has a $5 million budget, and one-fifth of that will be spent on politics this fall, says Executive Director Ed Coyle.
The Oregon Council of Senior Citizens recently announced that it will restructure as the Alliance for Retired Americans. A founding convention is being planned for February 2003 in Portland.
Dani Pere has been hired as the Northwest organizer for the Alliance. She is working with State Representative and labor commissioner-elect Dan Gardner, a vice president of Electrical Workers Local 48, to help develop a state chapter and to reach out to union retiree groups and community groups to discuss advantages of affiliation.
Gardner has been hired by the Oregon AFL-CIO to work with Pere.
Gardner said the state labor federation has identified 24,000 retired union members in Oregon, not counting the unaffiliated unions such as the Oregon Education Association, Oregon School Employees Association and the Carpenters Union.
"Just think of the clout this group could have if they fought for their issues under the umbrella of one group, just as working people fight for their issues under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO," Gardner said.
Gardner said the ARA intends to track the voting records of state and federal politicians on such bread-and-butter senior issues as prescription drug costs and Social Security privatization. "This group also will endorse candidates and work for candidates that support their issues," he said.
At the national level, Coyle said polls show that 40 percent of ARA members are activists.
"Nine in 10 senior voters surveyed reported they are likely to vote in this November's election," he told a press conference during the organization's first-ever convention in early September.
The findings were based on a telephone poll of 609 people aged 60 or over by Peter D. Hart Research Associates.
While turnout may not be that high this fall, seniors vote in numbers disproportionate to their share of the population, past surveys show. Starting in 1992, senior citizens have never been less than 21 percent of the entire electorate.
"I expect seniors to be the pivotal constituency both parties will be fighting over," said pollster Guy Molyneux. "It's not out of the question that seniors will be 29 percent or 30 percent of the electorate - or higher - this fall."
Senior voters have swung from Democratic to Republican and back again over the last decade: 56 percent-44 percent Democratic in 1992, barely Republican in 1994 (51 percent-48 percent) and 1996 (50-48), heavily GOP in 1998 (54-44) and slightly Democratic (51-47) in 2000.
In his contacts with established union retiree groups, Gardner is trying to recruit members to staff phone banks for the November election to call other retired union members. Phones are set up at 214 SE 18th Avenue (between Stark and Burnside), Portland. Volunteers will call the identified retirees from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday starting Oct. 7 and continuing through Election Day Nov. 5.
Retiree groups or persons can call Gardner at 503-860-8568, the Oregon AFL-CIO at 503-224-3169 or the Northwest Oregon Labor Council at 503-235-9444.
The national ARA has targeted 20 congressional districts and seven U.S. Senate races, including one in Oregon involving Democratic Secretary of State Bill Bradbury.
Bradbury is challenging Republican incumbent Gordon Smith.
On Thursday, Oct. 10, at Kirkland Union Manor, 3530 SE 84th, ARA is planning an endorsement rally for Bradbury at 1:30 p.m. Coyle is scheduled to attend the rally.
An ARA political scorecard for the first session of the 107th Congress shows Smith with a "pro retirement score" of only 20 percent on issues of importance to seniors. Comparatively, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden scored 80 percent, while Washington Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell were 100 percent.
The alliance's top issue is prescription drug costs. Forty-four percent of all seniors called prescription drugs an important issue, and more than a third of those said they would definitely oppose politicians who voted against Medicare prescription drug coverage. Social Security is the alliance's No. 2 issue, with seniors coming down hard against lawmakers who would partially privatize it.
Social Security was rated important by 34 percent of all seniors, and privatization loses by a 69-20 percent margin among all seniors. Social Security finished ahead of all other issues, except prescription drugs, including the war on terrorism, the economy, taxes and corporate greed, the poll shows.
© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.