POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Locals weigh in: How old is too old for politicians?

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Dec. 1—Age is part of the discourse on both sides of party lines in the upcoming presidential election, with President Joe Biden being 82 by the 2025 inauguration and former President Donald Trump at 78.

Age has been part of heated discussions during several election cycles, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, is a major target, as the senior senator. Former Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who recently froze in mid-sentence during a press conference, is 81. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, served in the Senate until her death in September at age 90. Feinstein was reported to have been prompted by an aide to vote when the senator appeared to zone out.

State Sen. Blake Cowboy Stephens believes the will of the people will determine whether age is an issue.

"The best qualification for elected office is the ballot box. I believe in the will of the people, and it's also what an effective campaign is about. If you can get out and explain your position on important topics that impact the daily lives of the people you represent, the people will determine whether you should serve," Stephens said.

Particularly with the president, Oklahomans overwhelmingly voted in opposition to the Biden administration because they didn't believe he was fit to lead, Stephens said.

"Hopefully in the next presidential election cycle, the nation will follow Oklahoma's lead and vote him out of office," Stephens said.

State Rep. Dewayne Pemberton, R-District 9, said age cannot be used to discriminate against a candidate.

"The Supreme Court has ruled against age discrimination in the past. Cognition and ability should not be connected to a specific age," Pemberton said.

In an Aug. 29 interview with National Public Radio, S. Jay Olshansky, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, addressed the upcoming election regarding the age issue.

"There's no question that the older we get, the higher the risk of things going wrong. But there's plenty of people that make it out to older ages perfectly healthy in mind and body, but certainly in mind and perfectly capable of being president. And I don't know how you would actually put some sort of age barometer. How would you determine what the proper number is? It's just simply age discrimination if you try to do something like that," Olshansky said.

The chair of the Cherokee County Democratic Party is on the fence about age limits.

"I'm kind of on the fence just because at 70 [a person] could still be competent to do the job. I think it's more polarized because of Joe Biden, Dianne Feinstein and Mitch McConnell," Yolette Ross said. "Recent polls say at least 79% of Americans feel there should be age limits. I don't know if I agree with that, because lots of people are very cognitive at older ages."

Ross said Biden was old when he was elected, but he has done a lot so far with the infrastructure plan and economic bills.

"He seems to be OK. This is a man who exercises; he rides his bike. I have only seen Trump playing golf. He's not physically fit, so what about that?" Ross said.

Trump will turn 78 in June; Biden just turned 81 last month.

Chair of the Cherokee County Republican Party, Carol Sneed-Jalbert, wondered how it would be determined whether someone was incapable of holding public office.

"Many think we should have more requirements. So, do we start with increasing the minimum age and then pick some age that we require a cognitive test? [We know] the voters don't want people in there for life, and definitely not someone who is senile," Sneed-Jalbert said. "Many of us have met [people over] 90 who have it all together. Don't you think the general public just wants someone they elect to be of sound mind?"

State Rep. Bob Ed Culver, R-District 4, Tahlequah, said voters elect the candidates, "so the voters are setting the age limits."

On the TDP Saturday Forum on Facebook Nov. 23, the question was posed, "Do you think age limits should be imposed for those running for political office at the national level?"

David Smalley, of Nowata, agrees with both Stephens and Culver: It is already up to the voters.

"Don't want some elderly person in office? Retire them. That means citizens will need to be actively involved in the process and not just show up every four years to vote. The minimum ages are enshrined in the Constitution. It would take an amendment to change them," Smalley said.

Monica Ford of Tahlequah has the opposite opinion on the matter and believes candidates should keep their word about how many times they plan to run for an office.

"[Referring to Trump and Biden, both] 78 and 82 are too old. I think there should be a cut-off age of say 65 or 68," Ford said. "Also, when a candidate campaigns and publicly states that they will only run for two terms, they should not be able to run for a third term. I think the current minimum ages are good as they are."

Eric Swanson of Ada believes performance is the true test of a candidate's mental viability for the job.

"I don't support age limits because I don't care how old a candidate is, as long as they can perform their duties effectively. A candidate who is otherwise capable of serving should not be barred from seeking office or reelection simply because of their age," Swanson said.

What you said

An informal poll on the TDP website asked if age limits should be imposed for those running for political office at the national level. The choice that garnered the most responses brought in 58%, with yes, absolutely; 22% said absolutely not; 14% answered yes, most likely; 4% voted probably not; and 2% are undecided about the question.