Former congressmen discuss problems in politics, what young voters should do

Kirstin Cook, Editor-in-Chief

Former Congressman David Minge likened making legislation to making sausage. He explained that sometimes the compromises designed to get items completed are not appealing to many people.

“You don’t really want to see how that process works,” Minge said. “It is not particularly appetizing.”

The retired representative of Minnesota described how many politicians enter the House of Representatives backed with good intentions and respect from their communities, but often get tangled in failed attempts at cooperation.

“You get to Washington and you get caught up in this maelstrom of political process,” Minge said. “And your best hopes and ambitions to reach across the aisle and forge a bipartisan, working relationship are frustrating. It is a very stressful undertaking to try to make anything like that happen and really hasn’t been achieved.”

The stress of bipartisan efforts was just one insight that Minge and former Congressman Steve Kuykendall gave into the workings of the U.S. Congress during the Congress to Campus program. The program brought the two former congressmen to reflect on their experiences in Congress and the problems that exist today.

The congressmen presented a public forum, “Is Congress even worse than it looks?” at 5 p.m. Oct. 3 in Stark Learning Center Room 101. They said Congress is in a dysfunctional state, making it more important than ever for younger generations to get involved in politics.

Kuykendall, a republican representative from California, urged young adults to engage in politics by registering to vote, casting their ballot, working on campaigns and informing themselves on the issues. He said this is the only way the system will function.

“This democracy doesn’t work unless you do,” Kuykendall said. “We are in a participatory democracy period. If you don’t, shame on you. You have a lot more at stake than either of us do. You have a lot more years that the government’s going to impact your life.”

Minge, a democrat, suggested that young voters who don’t connect with the one of the two main parties consider starting their own movement.

“I would say to the young people who have this interest, if you think you have the tenacity to form a party, go for it.”

Though, he added that they should examine previous outcomes of third party efforts in American history and take those into account.

“If you see a better way, maybe it’s possible for you to become the nucleus of a movement in one of the existing parties,” Minge said.

He said something as minimal as putting up homemade signs could change the results of an election, because it represents a “spontaneous, youth-driven movement” that could spread in a community.

“I think that idealism would be contagious.”

This type of movement could help influence issues pertinent to young voters. One such issue involves accessing education in the U.S., which Minge said families are struggling with relatively typically frugal approaches.

“I find it very disappointing that our country is almost unique in the industrialized world in not supporting education, especially post-secondary education like many other countries are, and we’re not investing in the future,” Minge said.

Kuykendall agreed there are problems with education in the U.S., but contrasted on what those problems are. He said the real issue is that people are being reckless with financial planning rather than frugal, and that getting a student loan is easier than it has been in the last 10 years.

“What has happened, because, in my opinion, of the ease of getting student loans is we have people quit making the economic decision,” Kuykendall said.

He said this decision requires students to evaluate their loan amounts and whether their expected occupation would be able to pay those off in a timely manner.

“Is it going to be a $100,000 loan and I want to be a doctor? OK, I can probably pay that off,” Kuykendall said. “Is it going to be a $100,000 loan and I’m going to be an art curator, maybe not.”

College students are not the only ones Kuykendall said are struggling with decisions. He said the current members of congress are stalled on making decisions, but that that’s all part of the compromise and cooperation that is worked into the Constitution.

“If you look at the House of Representatives and the Senate, how they’re supposed to merge together to come together with a consensus, that’s the messy part,” Kuykendall said. “But it’s meant to be messy and it’s meant to force consensus, and I think some of our colleagues sometimes have forgotten the Constitution that they signed an oath to.”

Part of that might just be that people aren’t getting along, and Kuykendall said that’s a result of extreme elements of each party pulling on both sides.

“I’m a republican, and I don’t like going to some of some of our own republican conventions. It’s just become disgusting,” Kuykendall said. “I find myself going. ‘why do I want to be around these people?’ sometimes.”

He said the parties need to refocus, and that’s part of the current problem with Congress.

The public has noticed this problem, and that’s clear in the low approval rating of Congress. According to a recent gallup poll, just 13 percent of the Americans approve of Congress.

“The approval rating to me is a travesty,” Kuykendall said.

But, he noted that voters haven’t taken action.

“The public gets the chance every two years to flush the whole system. They haven’t done so yet.”

Voters are getting another chance to have their voices heard this Election Day, Nov. 6.

Kuykendall reflected on the upcoming election as well as the candidates vying for the presidential office. He declared a need for Romney to show emotion in his campaign, but also disclosed his doubt for the likelihood of this display.

“Romney – and in all honesty I don’t think he can, but I think that he needs to – he needs to have an emotion outburst or something,” Kuykendall said. “The guy’s so greased down and so tightened up, even though I think he’s clearly the smarter guy on the stage … he has absolutely failed at communicating a passion for what he thinks is important, and there isn’t a passionate bone showing in the guy, and unfortunately that bothers me.”