Fish and tartar sauce topped the lunch menu Thursday at the Lawrence Senior Center, but presidential politics provided plenty to chew on for a number of seniors in attendance.
The day's newspapers headlined the debates over the presidential debates and Ross Perot's expected re-entry into the campaign.
And several members of the city's oldest generation were eager to discuss what candidates George Bush, Bill Clinton and Perot should be focusing on.
"I'm a Democrat, so you know who I'm going to vote for," said Helen Dibble, a former DeSoto school teacher. "The other two don't amount to anything anyway."
President Bush hasn't made the grade in the former third-grade teacher's eyes.
"What has he done in the years he's been in there? Why have we got so many people unemployed? Why hasn't he done something for us?" she asked. "I know he might be a good foreign policy man, but we're here. I think he's a good man. But right now, I think it's going to take somebody else."
Dibble, who lives in Lawrence, said jobs are important in this election year.
"Although I don't want them to take Social Security not only from me, but from everybody else I don't want them to tax or to reduce it. There's too many people who are living only on the income from that," she said.
Dibble said she's not even sure Clinton can fix the country's problems.
"I'M NOT saying Clinton's the man," she said. "I think we've got smarter men than that. But the people who really could run aren't trying to run, because they know better. I don't think Perot knows what he's trying to do. He's all confused. . . . I don't think he's the man we need in there."
Dibble said she actually doesn't feel confident about any of the candidates.
"We don't have much choice," she said. "We're sick of Bush. And we don't need Perot. So I guess we might as well put a Democrat in there. We can't do any worse."
Fredricka Brown, a 79-year-old Lawrence native, has raised seven children and worked as a cook during her lifetime.
Now she worries about what the future holds for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In her mind, jobs are the main issue.
"THE MENFOLK need jobs," she said. "You can look for them down the street to see who has jobs and maybe you'll see one black man who has a job. . . . We should get more jobs, just jobs for people. And make it even. We need to make it even so everybody can get jobs."
Merle Jackson, 72, who has five children and 10 grandchildren, said the first presidential election he remembers was in 1932 when he played in the band when Franklin D. Roosevelt made a campaign train stop in Junction City.
"In the past, they didn't have to contend with being on television," Jackson said. "They would make a railroad stop and they would talk on the radio. FDR didn't know what television was and yet he was probably the most influential president we ever had in his fireside speeches."
Jackson, who is president of the local chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, said the main issue in the 1992 election is who has the best plan for the economy.
"IT DOESN'T matter which candidate, as long as they get in their platforms to get rid of the deficit that we're in, to keep the taxes low on the low to moderate incomes and to do a few things that would benefit the people as a whole instead of a few select groups," Jackson said.
Jackson, retired from work with a local plumbing firm, said he hasn't yet decided who will get his vote.
Another key issue on the minds of senior citizens is health insurance.
"And its understandable, with all of these Medicaid, Medicare insurance policies, the whole thing is so screwed up that nobody knows where we are," he said. "They're all promising things they can't deliver. There's got to be a compromise."
Jackson said senior citizen groups are hoping they can influence the presidential candidates about entitlement programs.
"I THINK if they'll leave Social Security alone, unlike they did in the past, I think it will be adequate," Jackson said. "It's only when they start messing around with it that I worry they see that big pile of money there. They just about did us in a few years ago."
Jackson said he doesn't think it matters much who wins the race.
"Congress runs the show. The president is sort of the figurehead. If they want to override him, he might as well not be there," he said.
Some people seem disillusioned with the process, he said.
"But we'll come through, one way or another," he said. "It's a little muddy sometimes, but it will clear up."
One soft-spoken woman who didn't want her name used rubbed her hands together as she sat waiting for lunch. The main issue that worries her is health care.
"I THINK we've got to make some changes," she said. "But I'm not sure how to do it. There are lots of opinions."
Laughing, she said she would probably vote for Bush "because I'm a Republican."
"I do think Quayle is a lot smarter than they give him credit for," she said, laughing again.
Mary Coleman, a retired state social worker who was born in Arkansas, says Arkansans have mixed feelings about Clinton, their governor.
"My nephew's wife says the things Clinton's good about is getting elected. He doesn't do so much after getting elected. But he's good at getting elected."
Coleman said she voted for Ronald Reagan twice on the assumption that because he was older, he would support senior citizens.
"BUT THEY'VE been cutting benefits for seniors for the last 12 years," Coleman said. "Now, I think that a younger person would probably be more sympathetic and understanding."
During the summer, Coleman said, she ranked Perot as her first choice, followed by Clinton and then Bush. Now she is leaning toward Clinton.
"I still think Perot is serving a useful purpose because he's forcing the other two candidates to talk about the deficit and I don't think Bush and Clinton would have touched on that very much," she said.
Coleman, who was an Air Force recruiter during the Korean War, said she was worried that Perot wants to cut entitlements across the board, including veterans benefits.
However, she said, "I agree with Perot on the point that deficit reduction is the major issue."