Labor Day has passed and we are knee-deep - no - waist deep in politics. Political parties are in the midst of their national campaigns for the race to the White House, Congress and the Statehouse plus numerous local offices.

In the 2006 general election according to the Indiana Secretary of State, of the 4.2 million registered voters in the state, only 1.7 million or 40 percent of Hoosiers voted. However, during the 2004 general election, more than 2.5 million or 58 percent of registered voters went to the polls, including absentee voters.

Voting is a part of responsible citizenship.

Voting is one way to express our voices on social issues confronting our country and state. Another way is direct contact with those who are running for office this November and those elected to serve as our president, governor, state and U.S. senators and representatives.

Unfortunately, the number of citizens involving themselves in expressing their opinions continues to dwindle, as does the number of voters. Hopefully, this election will be a record-breaker in the number of voters who show up at the polls. Hopefully, more United Methodists will engage their elected representatives.

As United Methodists, we have defined Social Principles which we can share personally with elected officials, especially at the state level. (The Social Principles are published in The United Methodist Book of Discipline available in your church office or library or online at www.gbcs-umc.org.) However, like the general populace, many United Methodists are reluctant to share their opinions and take a stand on issues which directly affect families across the state.

Next January social impacting legislation will again face lawmakers at the Statehouse. Hoosier United Methodist leaders need your assistance in taking a stand during the General Assembly on the insidious expansion of legalized gambling in Indiana, support for a statewide smoke-free workplace law and continued support for the safety and well-being of children, especially those children who become wards of the state.

Curb expansion of gambling

During both North Indiana and South Indiana annual conference sessions this past spring, members overwhelmingly supported a resolution to curb the expansion of legalized gambling in Indiana. Again, this will be an issue as Governor Daniels, if reelected, has promised to encourage legislation to privatize the Hoosier Lottery. Why? To raise more than $1 billion for state scholarships to higher education to encourage Hoosier youth to stay in Indiana swapping a few years of employment here in exchange for free higher education.

Since the state already has a lottery, this doesn't seem to be an expansion of legalized gambling but just good business. However, the billion-dollar deal comes with a 30-year lease to the lottery by an outside, even out-of-country provider. A lottery service provider, who pays a billion dollars or more for the right to run the lottery isn't going to sit idly by and be content with current lottery income. You can bet that there will be a major escalation of Hoosier Lottery activity heavily marketed to lower-income Hoosiers.

United Methodist leaders oppose such a measure for two major reasons. Gambling preys upon those who can least afford it, and the state deceives its citizens into thinking that luck, not investment, savings and work, bring financial well-being. State sponsored legalized gambling is simply poor public policy. Even lawmakers agree with that, but gambling is an easy fix to state revenue problems without raising taxes. Legalized gambling is not for the common good of all - the main mandate of good government.

Smoke-free Indiana

Another issue coming before the state's General Assembly in January will be legislation to make Indiana a smoke-free state to protect all workers from the deadly consequences of second-hand smoke. Advocates, including a growing number of United Methodists, will support legislation that bans smoking in all public workplaces across the state, including restaurants, bars, private clubs and casinos. Currently, more than 36 communities in Indiana are smoke-free, including the Indianapolis International Airport.

Why do United Methodist leaders support a smoke-free Indiana? One reason, plain and simple - to save lives. Currently in Indiana, more than 24 people die of a smoke-related illness every day. Some of those deadly illnesses are caused by second-hand smoke in workplaces. Hoosiers spend more than $2.1 billion a year in unmet medical costs related to tobacco. Even though 1,200 U.S. citizens die daily of tobacco-related illnesses, the tobacco companies continue to market their deadly products to a new generation of youth and young adults.

Safety of children

The third issue facing Indiana is the safety of children placed in state foster care. Even though the number of Department of Child Services case workers has increased considerably in recent years, many children still live in environments that are risky. How do we solve the problem of higher-quality foster care? One way is United Methodists opening their homes to foster children. True, that could seem like a major inconvenience to some, but homes with caring foster parents are desperately needed. It's not easy. I was a foster parent for two years and know personally the sacrifices our family made to care for two children - a brother and sister, but it also was a rewarding experience. Quality foster parents are the way that the state can provide for quality care and safety of children in its care.

Personal involvement in the politics of public life, whether in the support of legislation through contact with legislators or volunteer service to society is what makes a state great. Greatness is in the quality of a state's citizens.

Actions to take

You can support the first two issues by signing resolutions and contacting your state senators and representatives. To do so, download the resolution (individuals or organizations) against the expansion of gambling to share with your legislators. There is another resolution to support a smoke-free workplace law. Distribute and sign both the individual and congregational resolutions and fax or mail them to the Hoosier Faith and Health Coalition.

For more information on Indiana's Foster Care program, call toll-free 888-631-9510 or 317-234-4410 or contact the local Department of Child Services in the county in which you live.

Your support is needed. It's part of being United Methodists. It's part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

- Daniel R. Gangler