Original URL:  http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36%257E64%257E957639,00.html

Domestic issues are overlooked, many say Attack ads, potential war with Iraq raise concerns

By Ryan Morgan
Denver Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 30, 2002 -

This is part of a series exploring what's on metro-area voters' minds as the election approaches.

Maria Perez paused from her studies at the Curtis Park Community Center and reflected on how she'll mark her first ballot Nov. 5.

The 21-year-old mother of three sat in a small office whose walls muffled the sounds of her boisterous children in the
adjacent day-care center.

Pencil in hand, she hunched over a notebook and exercise worksheets, boning up for her GED.

Until now, Perez didn't think voting was important.

But she says dissatisfaction is driving her, along with many of her friends, to the ballot box.

"They're realizing that a lot of things could change this election," she said. "If we don't put our voices out there, how will people know how we feel?"

Perez opposes a war with Iraq.

"We should be trying to make peace instead of fighting," she says.

She also worries that social service programs could suffer if the money is spent on war instead.

For someone who benefits from a Denver program that helps pay for her GED studies - and could eventually chip in for a
college education - that concern hits close to home.

"They should be helping us here," she said. "We have people here trying to live homeless. They should be helping their
citizens instead."

That sentiment echoed far and wide across Denver. Many voters interviewed said the issues they care about - especially
domestic issues like education and spending on social services - are being completely ignored.

Denver is the most diverse - and poorest - in the seven-county metro area, with 14 percent of its 554,446 residents living in poverty, compared to 9 percent statewide, according to the 2000 census.

Eleven percent of the county's residents are African-American, compared to 3.8 percent statewide; 31 percent of the county's residents are Hispanic, while that same group makes up 17 percent of the statewide population.

The city also tilts heavily toward Democrats, who outnumber Republicans more than two to one, according to figures released this month by the secretary of state's office.

Statewide, there are about 150,000 more Republicans than Democrats.

Voters interviewed around the city said they would make their way to the polls on Election Day.

But most said the past few weeks of corrosive campaigning have left them feeling hostile to most of the candidates on the
ballot - even the ones they plan on voting for.

"I've had a response to negative advertising," said Dana Moore, 25, a GED instructor at the community center who's been coaching Perez. "I'll think, 'I was going to vote for that guy.' Then I'll see an ad and I'll think, 'Now he sounds like a creep.' I'm more concerned about what they would do with the responsibility we've given them as voters, rather than
accusations of what they've done in the past."

Moore also opposes a war with Iraq, and worries that Congress has given too much authority to President Bush while Americans suffer at home.

"(War) is going to be on everyone's radar," she said, "and you don't hear about how unemployment in Colorado is going up."

Like many Denver residents, Moore puts Amendment 31, the anti-bilingual education ballot measure, ahead of national issues like war or the economy in her list of Election Day concerns.

Census data show that people living in nearly a third of the city's households speak a language other than English at home,
compared to 15 percent statewide.

Moore called the measure a "good amendment gone bad," tarnished by its enforcement mechanism, which gives parents
the right to sue teachers who don't comply with the law's provisions.

Moore's views found support at the colorful Museo de las Americas a few miles to the south on Santa Fe Drive, where
indigenous American art covers the walls.

Museum employee Virginia Southworth, 68, said she supported the idea behind the measure - that all children should learn to speak English.

But she said Amendment 31 doesn't do anything constructive to bring that about.

Like Moore, she criticized the idea of suing teachers.

"We're not accomplishing anything," she said. "It's insane. I do think people should learn to speak English. But that's not the way to do it. How can we do that to our teachers?"

Museum curator Tariana Navas-Nieves, the mother of a developmentally disabled son, said she'd like to see more
money spent on educational programs that help children like her son.

The current educational system took years to identify his disability, and Navas-Nieves says additional funding and better
programs are critical for children with autism, learning disorders and other problems.

Instead, she said, the national debate seems fixated on war.

"When you know that so many millions, so many billions, of dollars are going to be spent on war, it's heartbreaking," she
said. "But it's not surprising."

Navas-Nieves said the only political discourse she sees is the abrasive attack ads that she and her friends watch flash across their television screens.

"It's hard to feel positive," she said. "We're disgusted by it all."

Southworth agreed.

"They're bombarding us with those awful ads, and it's really sad," she said. "The average person doesn't know what's going on. We're all too busy going to work and going home and paying our bills to know."

Even stalwart Democrats are split on the most contentious issues voters will decide Tuesday.

Sisters Megan and Stacy Maison, both University of Colorado at Denver students, agreed with their fellow Democrats on many issues.

They oppose war and abhor the current administration: "Our party affiliation is anti-Bush," Megan said.

They identify abortion rights as the issue they care about most.

But as they sat studying trigonometry and munching french fries in the Tivoli student center on the Auraria campus, both young women said they support Amendment 31 because current teaching methods simply aren't getting the job done.

"It's harder and harder to go through life without speaking English," said Megan, 20.

Stacy Maison, 19, agreed, and she and other English-speaking students were hampered in high school because many other students couldn't speak the language, slowing progress for the entire class.

Some Denver voters will have completed their civic duty by Nov. 5.

Sitting on the ground level of the glass skyscraper of the Mile High Center in downtown Denver, Tom Monroe described his solution for the ballot-box crunch: the absentee ballot, which he fills out slowly as he researches the issues and candidates.

An independent voter and self-described fiscal conservative, the shirt-and-tie-clad Monroe, 24, said he thinks politicians' top priority should be "getting the economy back on track."

Like many other voters, Monroe said he's sick of negative campaigning that pollsters say is driving voter approval of nearly all candidates steadily down. But he hasn't let disgust drive him to apathy.

"You have to vote," he said. "If you don't vote, you have no right to (complain.)"


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