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Hawaii Seniors Make Their Voices Heard

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie

Two years ago, older voters in Hawaii went to the polls in numbers greater than any other group. According to Census data, voters age 45+ accounted for nearly seven in ten votes cast in Hawaii’s 2012 general election. Ninety percent of older residents who registered made their voices heard at the polls.

The results of this year’s primary election suggest that the voices of Hawaii’s most influential voting bloc are still reverberating. Despite outspending his opponent 10-to-1, Gov. Neil Abercrombie carried just three House districts out of 51 and became the only governor in state history to lose in a primary. Abercrombie’s defeat may be an indication of the hazards of taking older voters for granted.

“The historic upset in the Democratic primary is a cautionary tale,” said AARP Hawaii State President Gerry Silva. “Candidates for state and federal office should listen carefully to the concerns and opinions of our kupuna, and understand that seniors pay close attention to issues that affect their families.”

Indeed, the governor’s proposal to tax pensions in 2011 came as a shock to Hawaii seniors whose incomes were no match for rising costs. At a time when many residents were still reeling from the effects of the Great Recession, many saw the pension tax as an unfair attempt to close the state’s budget deficit on the backs of people with fixed incomes.

AARP led the fight to oppose and defeat the tax on the grounds that it was unfair and legally flawed. Our members said they felt strongly that a retroactive pension tax would not allow affected retirees enough time to plan before having to make an unexpected tax payment. We agreed that a major change in tax policy deserved thoughtful, informed community dialog on what other proposals were being considered.

AARP serves its members and the public on a variety of health and pocketbook issues that Hawaii’s families care about – and we listen to what seniors are saying.

If there’s a lesson to take away from the primary election – it’s that candidates in the general election should be listening too.


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