In this election, stakes are high

What a time to be a part of the body politic. Last week Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-NJ, requested his name be taken off the ballot after he came under fire for allegations of ethical violations as the Democrats attempt to maintain a one-seat majority in the 100-member Senate. Death will not prevent the name of Patsy Mink, a former Democratic representative, from remaining on the ballot as the Republicans attempt to maintain a six seat majority in the 435-member House. Three names on the Minnesota gubernatorial ballot remain in a dead heat while a fourth fights to keep his party above the 5 percent threshold of major party status. These events would be newsworthy in a normal election year, but this November they are momentous.

In this coming election, every seat counts. It has been called the most contentious and most important mid-term election in the last 40 years. Within a month either, neither, or both of the houses of Congress may have flipped its majority party. Although middle-of-the-road representatives can be encouraged to swing to the minority party on some issues, majority parties rule the legislative body from its dominance of committee appointments and subsequent determination of the body’s agenda.

The national uncertainties are reflected in some of the hotly contested races on the Minnesota stage, the most prominent of which is the race for U.S. Senate. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and his Republican challenger Norm Coleman, have staked out large campaigns while Independence Party candidate Jim Moore and Green Party-endorsed candidate Ray Tricomo have contributed to the political debate. The Republicans hope to gain a seat in the traditionally Democratic state of Minnesota as well as unseat Wellstone, a frequent critic of President George W. Bush. The Democrats hope to protect their slim lead in the Senate so as to exert some amount of power in the legislative branches.

Overshadowing all debate is talk of military conflict. At what point is the United States justified in an invasion of Iraq? What are the international ramifications of such an action, with or without United Nations approval? To what extent should the United States continue to be present and involved in Afghanistan? The decline of the Soviet Union has left a power vacuum which the United States is just now beginning to completely fill and its self-seen role is just now becoming more defined.

Domestically, the United States is still trying to define how its citizens should conduct their day-to-day lives in the shadow of an engagement with which they have no precedent. In the wake of last year’s attacks, civil liberties continue to become curtailed while suspicion and innuendo are lauded as patriotism. What powers the next Congress extends to the military and law enforcement bodies could impact Americans’ lives for years to come.

Social Security, although a distant concept for people of their college years, should be a primary concern for everyone. Last year, 23 percent of federal spending, or $433 billion, went to Social Security. The program has been able to flourish because, at its creation, it had 40 workers paying in for every one retiree taking out. However, the ratio is currently only a ratio of 2-to-1 and as Baby Boomers age, the ratio is expected to fall to 3-to-1. Although Social Security has always run a surplus, it is expected to run out of its entire reserves within the next 20-25 years, leaving nothing for people of current college age when they retire despite an increasing burden during their working lives. Actions taken now may determine what is left later.

A series of corporate scandals has eroded public trust in companies. This has sent the stock market and retirement plans plummeting. This term lawmakers will have to decide how strong of a stance they want to take against unethical corporations, many of which contribute to the legislator’s re-election campaigns.

In Minnesota, the budget concern is more immediate. The economy still has not recovered but instead remains stuck in the doldrums. Barring an unexpected turnaround, Minnesota will again be faced with hard decisions on spending and revenue. Under the Minnesota Constitution, the state budget must be balanced each year. In 2001, University students began to feel the crunch as services started getting cut and tuition increased. Although increased taxes are rarely palatable, Minnesota voters must consider the consequences of a decreasing tax base in a slow economy.

All these issues should be kept in mind as the election frenzy increases. Candidates will speak their mind in the newspaper, on television, on radio and at rallies. Now is the time to begin to examine their stances on the issues and consider who best will represent you, in the city, in the state and in the federal level. This year, more than ever, your vote counts.