Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., one of Congress' best-known supporters of activist causes, says the United States must get young people involved as office-seekers or risk a future political meltdown.
In Cincinnati on Oct. 11 to generate publicity for city council candidate Alicia Reece, Waters pointed to Reece, 28, as an example of what voters should be demanding: bright young candidates for public office. Waters told CityBeat that it's in everyone's best interest — politicians, business leaders and voters — to engage young people in the political process.
"Young people need to take leadership roles in American politics," Waters said before her luncheon speech at Integrity Hall in Bond Hill. "All of us politicians are getting older. Who's going to take our places?"
With the way American politics is set up today, Waters said, it's difficult for new ideas and new faces to break in — and doubly difficult for young people to get their start. Even those who do everything society asks a young person to do — go to college, get a good job, become active in community causes — can't get their foot in the political door.
"Young candidates will help us get young people back to the voting booth, too," Waters said.
Waters, who represents a congressional district in Los Angeles, said her interest in hitting the stump with a local candidate like Reece stems from getting in touch with "real" government.
"We simply set policy on a national level," Waters said, "and those policies are implemented on the local level. We give block grants and set mandates, which state and city bodies carry out, so I know the importance of city councils."
A major national issue for Waters is health care, and she was instrumental in helping the House of Representatives pass managed care reform recently. The bill's passage is up to the Senate now, she said.
"You know, the federal government helped create this monster of a health care system we have now," Waters said. "We wanted to provide cheap health care to people, so we helped HMOs get started. But they turned around and, in the name of profit, handed over decisions on medical treatment to accountants and non-medical assistants. But, with this new law, people can sue their HMOs to get proper treatment."
Waters said that only a few local candidates like Reece — who is pushing for better local health care services (see "More Than Race," issue of Aug. 12-18) — understand the role of local government in issues like health care, a patient bill of rights and Medicare reform.
Waters has served California's 35th District since 1990 and during her five terms in Congress has become known as an outspoken advocate for children, minorities and the poor. She currently serves as chief deputy whip of the Democratic Party. ©