Campaigns and kids

May 18, 1994

Children are familiar props in political campaigns, but once politicians take office as elected officials the problems of kids usually recede into the background. Children's issues have gotten more attention in recent years, but seldom have politicians established the well-being of the next generation as a top priority. Children, after all, don't vote.

Maryland, with a strong heritage of citizen activism on behalf of children's issues, is better off in this regard than many other states. Even so, too many Maryland youngsters are failing to learn in school, failing to thrive physically and, in many cases, even failing to survive the increasingly mean streets of inner-city neighborhoods. Meanwhile, it is no longer as easy for more fortunate Marylanders to assure themselves that the problems of the poor will not affect their own future welfare, or that of their children and grandchildren.

A number of experienced observers are convinced there is now a chance to turn the tide. Reviewing the history of recent political movements, from the civil rights revolution to the women's movement to a dramatic rise in awareness of environmental problems, they conclude that kids can be next -- that there is enough grass-roots support for children's issues to make politicians pay serious attention. In Maryland, that conviction is taking a bold form, with Vote Kids 94. The campaign kicks off this week.

Vote Kids 94, which uses the catch phrase, "Who's for Kids and Who's Just Kidding?", has several bold objectives, beginning with its primary aim of putting children's needs at the top of the agenda for candidates running for state office. By aiming high, the campaign increases its chances of fulfilling other objectives, such as its hopes of creating momentum by recruiting new advocates around the state. Rather than endorsing candidates, the effort will focus more on educating all candidates and voters so that everyone has a stake in the debate.

One driving force behind the campaign is a powerful new tool -- Maryland's annual Kids Count book, which compiles the data that will make it possible to detect trends that show definitively whether conditions for children are getting better or worse. From infant mortality rates and general health to the availability of child care to school performance or juvenile crime rates, reliable information provides benchmarks that make it possible to hold politicians accountable.

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