What kind of society do you want your vote to build?
- Written by Bob Rehak
It’s time to make that trip to the ballot box again. There’s nothing more sacred in a democracy except perhaps a trip to the church or gun store of your choice. Yet few people will vote this year. And fewer still will have a real understanding of whom they’re voting for or why. Candidates often avoid controversial issues during elections because they have the potential to alienate voters who may disagree with the candidate’s position. That’s why – when many candidates are confronted by difficult questions – you so often hear that carefully intoned phrase, “I’ll need to study that.” So I did a little studying of my own. I Googled the phrase “Texas ranks.” I found that Texas ranks #1 out of the 50 states for corporate relocation because of our low taxes. That’s very good. It brings jobs to Texas, a commodity even more sacred to Texans than guns. (Well, maybe.) But then, I found some other interesting tidbits. We also rank #1 in air pollution emissions, amount of toxic chemicals released into our waters, homeless children, uninsured children, tornados, registered machine guns and executions. But look at the bright side. One or two other states actually rank worse than we do on some measures. We rank: • # 2 in identity theft • # 2 in road-rage traffic fatalities • # 3 in people living below the poverty level • # 3 in people without enough food • # 3 in rates of incarceration Texas also ranked dead last in access to health care. Almost one in three of us are uninsured. Texas ranks: • 46th in math SAT scores • 49th in verbal SAT scores • 49th in childhood immunizations • 50th in percentage of residents with a high school diploma • 50th in per capita spending for parks • 50th in affordability of homeowner’s insurance • 50th in tax expenditures per capita You might consider that last statistic a triumph or a tragedy depending on whether you consider yourself a conservative or a liberal. It also depends on whether you can afford private schools and homeowner’s insurance. Regardless, it brings a truism to mind: “You get what you pay for.” Of course, I’m selectively choosing statistics to make a point. I happily acknowledge that Texas doesn’t rank at the extremes in all cases. Six states actually rank lower than we do on “percentage of eligible voters who vote.” This raises the questions, “Did we achieve all these dubious distinctions by design? Are they the consequence of conscious choices?” I’m confident of one thing. It isn’t because we’re heartless. Texas ranks third nationally in “non-profit organizations.” We have 17,000 charitable and volunteer organizations in Harris County alone. I’m also confident of another thing. Jobs are better than no jobs. Still, I wonder whether we have all of our priorities straight. On a personal level, anyone who has ever tried to stretch the interval between oil changes or house paintings knows that sometimes not spending money can catch up with you. On a state level, we rank #5 in “deaths due to diabetes.” Diabetes correlates highly with obesity and is spreading rapidly among Texas children. Diabetes is also the most common cause of kidney failure, accounting for 44 percent of new cases. Now connect these dots. Earlier this month the Dallas Morning News reported on a study from the Commonwealth Fund, a group that tracks health care trends nationally. A VP of the fund reported that she is starting to see some cash-strapped communities make the difficult choice between building dialysis centers and playgrounds. Talk about tipping points! One wonders whether investing more in parks, playgrounds and school PE programs could save on health care expenditures in the long run. Likewise, a dollar spent on immunizations can save tens of thousands of dollars in health care costs down the road. But we’re Texans. No one is going to tell us how to live our lives. No one is going to force us to immunize or exercise. We like our independence and our guns … even when shooting ourselves in the foot. So don’t let me or anyone else tell you how to vote this year. Just ask yourself a simple question. “What kind of society do I want my vote to build?” Then vote for someone who will help you build it. If you’d rather see kids in jail than in school, that’s your choice. If you’d rather see kids in hospitals than in parks, that’s your choice, too. Only one thing is certain. If you don’t vote, you won’t have a choice. Someone else will make the choice for you. Now, that’s really un-Texan. Personally, I wouldn’t stand for it. Bob Rehak is a 25-year Kingwood resident and business owner.