Although sexual orientation and dirty-trick campaigning have dominated the headlines regarding the Rancho Mirage City Council election, to my mind, there is a more interesting issue that has emerged: Should only older and more-experienced individuals be elected to represent the city’s residents?
Councilmember Dana Hobart recently made that assertion, casting Councilmember Scott Hines as “younger … (with) just ambition.”
Hines attended the Air Force Academy, earning a degree in political science in 1992, and then master’s degrees in public management from the University of Maryland, and organizational management from George Washington University. With more than 20 years of business and entrepreneurial experience, he is hardly a kid.
Hobart served in the Air Force for four years, then graduated from California State University and earned a juris doctorate from the USC School of Law in 1963. In addition to a long legal career and positions of prestige within the legal community, he successfully argued a case before the United States Supreme Court in 1976.
Assuming these are both honorable men who want to serve their community, why would age even be a factor? Do older residents only want to see people their own age elected?
Here’s what I’m wondering: Is it time for the younger generations to take over? Remember that old saying, “Never trust anyone over 30”?
Although Hines is well beyond millennial age, a recent poll by Pew Research Center sheds some light on the ongoing conflicts between the generations.
“Millennials,” defined as people between the ages of 18 and 33 by Pew, have very different views of traditional cultural norms and institutions. The underlying struggle to redefine our society is taking place throughout the country at all levels.
A recent column in The New York Times by Charles M. Blow, discussing the Pew findings, got me thinking. Yes, there is value in the wisdom we hope to have developed over many years of experience, but there is also value in accepting that society’s norms have already changed in important ways, and public policies must adjust to reflect those changes.
For example, 69 percent of millennials believe that marijuana use should be made legal, while only 32 percent of the so-called “silent generation” (those 68 and older) support legalization (although even that number has almost doubled since 2002). On the issue of whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry, 68 percent of millennials support such rights, compared to only 38 percent of the silent generation.
Millennials also largely believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases (68 percent), and that immigrants in the country illegally should be allowed to stay and eventually apply to become citizens (55 percent).
In the Coachella Valley, particularly the western and central parts, we tend to think of the local population as made up of many retirees. However, according to the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP), in 2011, only about 30 percent of valley residents were 55 or older.
Does that mean almost 70 percent of our residents are not having their interests represented when elected officials are from older generations? Not necessarily. For example, in Rancho Mirage, more than half of the population is 60 or older. Yet, it is worth considering that elected officials are supposed to not only manage current realities, but plan for the future viability of their communities. That may require attitudes and philosophies that encompass the cultural changes we are already experiencing.
Local officials have to consider policy approaches that are necessary for their communities to be seen as welcoming to younger generations. At the national level, “the young-old partisan voting gaps in 2008 and 2012 were among the largest in the modern era,” said Blow. So if Rancho Mirage is largely made up of older people, does that mean their City Council representatives should disdain appealing to younger people? Not if they want their city to survive.
When I first moved to the Coachella Valley in 1985, I remember thinking that all the service employees who worked in local cities—waiting tables, cleaning hotel rooms, maintaining golf courses, working in sales, etc.—could not possibly afford to live in the cities where they were employed, and thus had less invested in making those cities sustainable. I remember when, in 1988, Indian Wells, which then boasted one of the highest per-capita incomes in the state, sought an exemption from having affordable housing built within their city’s borders. Thankfully, they lost that battle, thanks to a veto by the then-Republican governor.
The Pew poll showed that millennials are more racially diverse and less disapproving of government services. They are experiencing higher student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income. However, they are the future, and we need to incorporate their attitudes and needs if we hope to sustain our communities.
So, the question remains: Should only older and more-experienced individuals be elected to represent the city’s residents? Should age trump “ambition”? When Hobart was younger, wasn’t he ambitious?
As Blow puts it: “One might argue that millennials simply haven’t lived long enough to hit the triggers that might engender more conservatism … but it could just as well be that this group of young people is fundamentally different.”
Is it perhaps time that older folks recognize that younger generations have something to offer as a balance, with a new approach to “the way we’ve always done it.” Our future will be as different from today as today is from the “traditional values” of a mere 50 years ago—a time that some in the older generation still cling to as what should be “normal.” Without that balance, and those new ways of looking at our culture and our institutions, we are only stalling the inevitable.
Maybe it’s time for older folks, myself included, to just get out of the way. Those with experience should teach, mentor and advise—but let younger generations lead.