In Centralia, people discuss politics with cynicism, hope for opportunity

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:50 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Editor's note: This story is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.

The downtown square in Centralia is lushly green – a reminder of what a blessing rain was after a summer of drought. The downtown itself is deserted – a reminder that it’s Sunday in Small Town, USA.

At the recreation center in the town of 4,000, a handful of people are walking the blue trail that circles the indoor basketball court. Among them are Alan Green, 39, and his 12-year old son, Brant. The walk is part of the hangout time father and son have during weekends; in the rest of the week, Brant lives in Columbia with his mother. It is also part of Green’s recovery process.

In May, Green had brain surgery to remove a genetic aneurysm he had been trying to treat in the past 14 years. He was accompanying his father to a doctor’s appointment, when he had a stroke right there, in the doctor’s office. He went through brain surgery at University Hospital in Columbia the next day. Since then, he has been recovering through exercising basic actions such as writing and walking.

When the stroke happened, Green was already unemployed and on Medicare. He lost his job of five years with PepsiCo after he fell off a ladder and hurt his head and his back, three years ago. So when the bills for the brain surgery arrived — one of about $30,000, the other of $50,000 — he was relieved to learn that Medicare would cover it all.

“I’ve never been really a Democrat,” he says. “But with the brain surgery and the stroke, I haven’t paid anything out of pocket.”

Green is unsure whether the Affordable Care Act had anything to do with him being included in the Medicare program.

The Affordable Care Act might not have influenced Green’s insurance situation, says Stan Hudson, associate director of the MU Center for Health Policy. As far as Medicare is concerned, the act has planned payment reductions for retired patients, but these will not take effect until the beginning of 2014. With his disability status, Green would have been eligible for Medicare before the health care act.

The main focus of the act is on expanding access to affordable insurance options for those who had difficulty obtaining insurance, Hudson says. But the act is so extensive that the actual policy changes are rolling slowly, one at a time. The only group that has been affected so far by Affordable Care Act policies adopted in 2011 is young people under 26, who can stay on their parents’ insurance.

Either way, Green says he would vote for Obama.

One would have to be insane not to vote for Obama, an older man who passed us on the blue trail said. What other choice do you have?

Tony Lindsay, 38, was pondering over the same question over burger and fries at McDonald’s later in the afternoon. He drove from nearby Hallsville with his wife, Laura, and his 15-year-old son, Logan.

“(We have to make) one of the worst choices ever,” he says. “An unfortunate vote of two evils.”

Obama is not right for the job, Lindsay says  — he didn’t vote for him in 2008. Romney, on the other hand, is putting banking and big businesses ahead of people, an approach that has failed in the past.

Lindsay, who works as a construction contractor, describes himself as an independent conservative. He would have voted for Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, whom he describes as a “true conservative,” similar to Theodore Roosevelt.

No matter who the new president will be, Lindsay says he and his family’s life will not be immediately affected unless the taxation system will change. He doesn’t agree with any of the candidates’ take on taxation. He would support an equal-percentage tax, with tax deductions for families with incomes below a certain level.  

And no matter who the new president will be, his son, Logan, will have a future of opportunities, Lindsay says.

“It’s not good for big business when the masses are not content,” he says. “They want workers, and they want buyers.”

The past years have been tough for the construction industry, where Lindsay works, and he is not seeing any big signs of improvement. 

“Where we were 10 years ago,” he says, “is nowhere in sight.”

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