Sitting at a conference table, I wrestle alongside my AARP Oregon colleagues with deciding which questions to ask Portland mayoral candidates, and how to word them.
It’s not unlike what I did during many years as a journalist, trying to formulate questions of news sources that would bring answers both interesting and educational. This time, I’m helping come up with topics and questions for AARP’s Portland mayoral candidate forum on April 2. We are deep into the planning for the event.
I have always been interested in public policy, government and explaining to people why things in the public arena work – or don’t. It’s in my DNA.
Now, in retirement, I’m still drawn to public issues and civic engagement, and I find that AARP is a great avenue to continue my interests. AARP is all about public policy – on retirement security, campaign finance, public health, taxes, and elections. While it doesn’t endorse or oppose political candidates, it’s front and center in trying to get office-seekers on the record on issues important to its members. ( See the AARP Public Policy Book here)
And AARP has provided me with the tools and the forums for civic engagement. I have given talks and conducted workshops on the future of Social Security and Medicare, combatting health care fraud and consumer scams. I’ve gone to Salem with other volunteers to educate our state lawmakers on issues from services for seniors and people with disabilities to establishing a state-sponsored retirement system for people who don’t have any other option at work.
It’s not only at AARP where I do this sort of thing. I’ve been involved in the City Club of Portland on research projects on elections and helped get a bill through the Legislature improving the process of redistricting. I am grateful to have had AARP’s backing in that effort. Going to Salem to try to persuade legislators about the importance of one issue or another is a new experience for me. As a reporter, I would dutifully record what lawmakers decided to do, but not get involved in helping them decide what to do.
Retirement has also given me time to get involved in my neighborhood association. Right now we are in the process of raising money in the neighborhood to repair the potholes in the portion of our street that is not maintained by the city. AARP’s goal of creating age-friendly cities – pedestrian safety, transportation alternatives, affordable and accessible housing – has given me a good framework through which to judge the pluses and minuses of my corner of Portland.
I take my responsibility as an informed, active citizen seriously. It’s easy to sit back and cynically deride politicians with a sense of superiority. In my experience as a journalist and a volunteer, however, I have to say that most office-holders are sincere and dedicated, even if I don’t agree with them.
Beyond that, though, I believe we all get what we pay for in terms of our public life. If you’re not in the game, you can’t complain about the score. For some of us, that means being religious about voting in every election (I can’t remember the last one I missed). For others, like me, it means getting involved in state, local and neighborhood issues to try to make things better.
So I’m happy to be involved in formulating questions that I hope will put the mayoral candidates on the spot next month and give Portlanders a better sense of each contestant and thus become more informed voters. I hope to see you there.
To learn more about the AARP Mayoral Forum on April 2, click here
[Photo of Steve Carter: Cameron Browne; Group Photo: Bandana Shrestha]