Clark urges active role in political process

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, June 2, 2004

WESSON – Mississippi Secretary of State Eric Clark encouragedapproximately 300 American Legion Boys State participants to takean active role in the election process Tuesday at Copiah-LincolnCommunity College.

“We think we do good in this country when we have a 50 percentvoter turnout for an election,” Clark said. “That’sdisgraceful.”

Clark said America is the father of modern democracy, yetcountries in Western Europe consistently have 80 percent turnoutsand Israel consistently tops 90 percent.

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The worst block of voters are those between the ages of 18 and24, Clark said.

In 1972, he said, 18-year-olds went to the polls for the firsttime to vote for Richard Nixon or George McGovern for presidentwhile America was still in the midst of the Vietnam War and thedraft. Young adults posted a 50 percent turnout that year, but havenever been close since.

In the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections, only 25 percent ofthose registered between the ages of 18 and 24 cast their votes, hesaid.

“Statistically, the older the group is, the better the turnout,”Clark said. “You guys need to change that.”

Politicians seek the votes, he said, and cater more to those ageblocks that actually show up at the polls on election day when theyare considering policies that will become law.

Clark challenged the students, who just finished their junioryear of high school, to be a part of the solution and not a part ofthe problem.

“Many of you want to go on to be leaders or politicians or youwouldn’t be here,” he said. “I have two points of advice I can giveyou: First, be prepared for disappointment and, secondly, keep yourhead on straight.”

As politicians, Clark said, they must be prepared that at somepoint in their careers, they will lose an election and becomeunemployed.

More importantly, however, he said, is to remember they are inoffice to help the people who elected them and not to boost theirown image of importance. He urged the students not to run foroffice unless they were sure they were doing it to help people andnot their own self-interests.

“Many politicians who are elected become egomaniacs and itbecomes about them. It’s not about them, it’s about the citizens,”Clark said. “And it’s not about staying elected either. Don’t do itif you can’t do it for the right reasons.”

Students questioned Clark about a variety of topics followingthe speech, including the office’s responsibility in accommodatingresources versus environmental concerns, hardest career choice,investigations of charitable organizations and the Promote The Voteprogram.

Clark spent some time answering a question about his views onvoter identification.

The secretary of state said he agreed that a voteridentification program was necessary, but also agreed withopponents. He said voter intimidation could be a very real issueand one that needed to be addressed before voter ID should bepassed.

“There is no law in Mississippi against intimidating a voter,”Clark said. “I think part of the solution to this issue is to makeit a crime so that if the ID process was misused the intimidatorcould be criminally prosecuted.”

He also said that much of the problem with voter ID as well ascivil justice, or tort, reform is based on partisanship.

One of the major obstacles in government today is partypolitics, he said. Politicians are spending too much time beatingup on their political opponents and not enough on reachingcompromises.

The Brookhaven delegation to Boys State gave Clark a goodreview.

“I thought the secretary of state did a good job. It was veryinformative,” said Ben Rowley.

Eric Shackelford agreed.

“A lot of time we fail to realize how much it takes to run thegovernment,” he said. “Speeches like these help us to understandwhat all that means.”

Andrew Scott said he found Clark’s description of a land swap onthe coast most interesting.

Private landowners had built up tidal lands on the coast andthought that made them private, but the lands were actually ownedby the state, Clark said. His office is negotiating a land swap togive those lands to the private landowners.

The Brookhaven delegation said they were not aware the Secretaryof State’s Office was involved in zoning, land claims and landuse.

“We didn’t know who did that, we just knew it got done,”Shackelford said.