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Campaign Journal: Talking Tax Policy With An Undecided

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Rachel Port is an OffTheBus grassroots correspondent. Each week she contributes a campaign journal documenting her life out on the trail.

Wednesday was my morning to phone bank for the Democrats here in Pima County, AZ. Every time I do this it is different, which makes it rewarding immediately as well as (hopefully) long-term.

Today I shared a table with a young man who is volunteering for a college class, and who is voting this year for the first time. Since most calls are no-answer, and we are not leaving messages, there usually is some time for conversation, and this has been a good reason for the drive to the office. This was true today even more than usual.

After we had gotten acquainted and listened to each other a little on the phones, he said he hasn't decided about his vote for president. He said he needs to do more research, he's been too busy to pay much attention to the campaign, and what he knows he's gotten from TV news, which he knows is slanted. I said if he had some questions I could answer, I'd be glad to do so. After a while, he said he didn't think Obama's ideas about taxing businesses making more than $250,000 would be good for the economy. This was not what I expected.

We had a rather long discussion. At one point, Ashley, one of our coordinators, came over to see what we were talking about. When she listened and joined in a bit, she left without telling us to stop and get back to our calls, so I think she felt, as I did, that this was important.

I explained some of the tax policies Obama has been proposing, including facts about assisting the American auto industry with retooling costs to build fuel efficient-cars, tax credits for creating new jobs in this country and more taxes for companies sending jobs overseas. We also discussed the economic crisis. He said risk is one thing, but these institutions should take the consequences, not get a bailout. Since I have mixed feelings about this, I could only quote economists I trust (like Paul Krugman), but I also talked about the government funding public projects for job creation and how this is a more long-term help for all sectors of the economy.

We got onto the appropriate role of government - things government does better than the private sector (he brought up fire fighting, and spoke of people who hired private firefighters during the California wildfires, who saved the house in question and did nothing to stop other nearby houses from being destroyed), places where profits make no sense (e.g. prisons, health care). He spoke of his parents and their friends not wanting to pay the higher tax rates for income over $250,000.

This gave me a chance to say what I have wanted to say for a long time, that taxes are like dues, the dues we pay for living in the greatest country in the world. He asked then if I think paying taxes is patriotic. I have a hard time with the word, but I think of it as an obligation - we get rights, services, opportunity, because of the country we "belong" to, and all of this costs money. If we paid more taxes for education and healthcare, we would ultimately save money because prisons are much more expensive, so the services our taxes pay for benefit all of us, not just the service recipients.

It was lively in the office, which is a small storefront. Ashley, one of the coordinators, was speaking to someone who was having a hard time reading the ballot. She wound up going through the entire ballot over the phone. It's a long ballot this year with eight propositions, Judge approvals, significant races for state office. Most of us paid attention to at least some of the conversation, which from our side made us smile. We also had someone come in to get a yard sign and make a donation, who wound up signing up to volunteer.

My phone results: made 84 calls (low number due to above discussion), spoke to 18 people. We were calling about vote by mail applications. 4 voters on my list had already voted, 2 hadn't received ballot yet, but were glad to learn they could turn it in on Election Day if it didn't come in time, 2 either had voted or were planning to vote early in person, 1 more didn't know she could do that, and took the information down. One man was angry about another call he got about the propositions. After we went through my script, he asked me about the propositions. He particularly wanted to know about the gay marriage one. It's a good thing he asked. He thought a yes vote would put fewest restrictions on it, which is not true. I think the election people work hard to make the wording of these ballot questions as confusing as possible.

Not a bad day.

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