Encourage Hoosiers to do their civic duty

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By Greg Morris

About a month has passed since Indiana’s primary election. I know many of you are thankful for a temporary break from the constant barrage of negative television ads.

It was an especially brutal primary season. But the break will be short as the main event is already heating up.

No matter how disgusted citizens were with the process, it’s important to remind them that they can’t stick their head in the sand and not participate.

They can’t be so jaded and, frankly, sometimes downright depressed, about all the dysfunction and lack of agreement on anything in government that they fail to go to the polls and vote.

A few days ago, Secretary of State Connie Lawson released voter participation results from the Indiana primary election.

I’m confident many of you reported these sobering statistics.

Only 22 percent of Indiana’s registered voters voted May 8.

That’s about 957,000 people out of 4.4 million potential statewide voters.

Statewide primary voter turnout was 40 percent in 2008 and 21 percent in 2004.

County by county results for the 2012 primary election are available here: in.gov/apps/sos/primary/sos_primary12.

I know I’m preaching to the choir, but we have to get Hoosiers more engaged.

Newspapers must take the lead in the effort to improve civic engagement. It is our civic responsibility.

The week of the primary, Indianapolis Business Journal ran one of the HSPA Foundation ads encouraging voter turnout.

The main message delivered in that ad is to “Speak Up – Vote,” and readers are directed to IndianaVoters.com to find their polling place.

The ad offered an advance look at the soon to be announced “Get Out the Vote” newspaper campaign made possible by your Hoosier State Press Association Foundation.

Several versions will be made available to HSPA member newspapers leading up to the November election.

The ads developed in the coming months will be geared to the general election and contain more specific information for November. But the message will be consistent – VOTE!

Look for more information on this endeavor coming soon and please, please run these ads leading up to the general election in November.

Editorials encouraging citizens to get off the sidelines and be civically engaged would be extremely beneficial as well.

As you hopefully already know, this effort ties in with HSPA Foundation’s partnership with the Indiana Civic Health Index to measure Hoosiers’ commitment to civic engagement, political knowledge, community service and understanding of the First Amendment.

The Indiana Bar Founda­tion and other groups also participated.

In closing this month, I hope you’ll allow me a few editorial comments related to the civic engagement discussion.

I want to offer some thoughts about our tolerance of other people and their opinions that don’t happen to agree with our own.

It seems people are of the belief that others who don’t agree with them are the enemy.

Politics isn’t just a difference of opinion to be discussed in a civil manner but some sort of personal betrayal. It’s all very personal now.

Remember when Ted Kennedy could give a blistering speech on the U.S. Senate floor and rake the Republicans over the coals in no uncertain terms and then put his arm around his Republican counterpart and ask him to go have a beer later that evening?

They worked things out.

Unfortunately those days appear to be gone.

We’re heading for a day, and we may already be there, when the only way to get elected is to be an extremist on the right or the left with no tolerance for middle ground and compromise.

Any politician who tries to work earnestly with both parties to accomplish a task is in no man’s land today as far as electability is concerned. It’s very dangerous ground.

The extremists on both sides seem to be getting all the attention.

Everything I’m hearing is that if you think Washington is dysfunctional now, you haven’t seen anything yet.

It’s only going to get worse. As a result, everybody needs to be part of a respectful discussion on how to get us out of this mess.

The ultimate expression of our opinion is offered when we go to the polls and vote.

So as leaders of our respective communities, let’s set a civil tone and get out the vote this November!

Thanks in advance for your participation and support.

Greg Morris, HSPA board of directors president, is presi­­dent of IBJ Media and publisher of Indianapolis Business Journal.