Former congressmen visit campus; advocate civic engagement

On Sept. 26, two former congressmen visited campus to present “The Great Divide: People, Congress and the Presidential Election,” as part of the Congress to Campus initiative.

Former congressmen Sam Coppersmith, a Democrat from Arizona who served from 1993 to 1995, and Dan Miller, a Republican from Florida who served from 1993 to 2003, came to speak with students as part of the Congress to Campus program, which sends retired congressmen to universities.

The goal, they said, is to encourage young people to get involved in public service, which they call “a noble career,” adding that many students haven’t had the opportunity to personally meet someone in public office, and that this initiative helps give them a better idea of who they really are.

“It humanizes us,” they agreed.

Coppersmith noted that, as a country, “we love democracy but hate politics.” However, the best way to change what voters don’t like is for them to get involved. For America to work, those in public service careers depend greatly on people volunteering in the community, he said.

One specific way they encourage students to get involved is by taking the Foreign Service Officer Exam.

Coppersmith is an attorney with three decades of experience in business and real estate transactional issues work, with emphasis on guiding nonprofit organizations in strategic initiatives, operations, transactions and public affairs, including international relations and elections issues.

A former college professor and businessman, Miller had never held public office before his election to Congress. During his 10 years in the House, he served on the House Appropriations Committee and the Budget Committee. He also served as chairman of the census subcommittee with oversight of the U.S. Census Bureau during the controversial and successful 2000 census. As a staunch fiscal conservative, he was committed to both reducing the size and scope of the federal government and fighting corporate welfare.

When asked to respond to the common rebuttal that Donald Trump may be unprepared to serve as president due to his lack of political experience, Miller said he didn’t think that disqualified him, adding with a laugh that “that’s not the problem” with Trump.

Coppersmith added that politics is unique in that it is a field where inexperience is often seen as ennobling, a sentiment that many supporters of Trump have also expressed, saying that they are sick of politicians and commend Trump’s uncensored, honest attitude.

As far as their own political views, both men said they have historically voted for their party’s candidates. Coppersmith said that he supported Hillary Clinton in the primary and will be “proud to vote for her” in November. Miller, however, said he did not support Trump in the primary and that he is still undecided as to for whom he will be voting.

The former congressmen also touched on a few of the primary issues facing the candidates today. As a congressman who served on the budget committee, Miller said he didn’t think either of the candidates’ economic plans were feasible, as he said the focus needed to be on the ever-growing deficit.

Coppersmith disagreed, saying that markets currently do not see inflation as a risk and that low interest rates should be taken advantage of, saying that solely focusing on the deficit was “short-sighted” and “counterproductive.” Fixing highways and creating bridges are two ways that the government can help create jobs and build the economy, he added.

As this is what some call the “most divided election ever,” the congressmen weighed in on the partisanship seen both among voters and within the government.

“Every age thinks it was better in the past,” Coppersmith said. “In many ways, I think politics is more transparent and more honest. The system is much more responsive to popular will.”

Miller had a different view, however, saying that there are many more “free agents” with strong viewpoints today who are unwilling to adjust to the majority, which is why nothing is getting passed.

“They have no loyalty and no feeling of responsibility,” Miller said.

Miller added that this election is a unique situation in that the majority of people don’t like or trust either candidate, adding that this is “symbolic of Washington being dysfunctional.”

But one takeaway that both men emphasized is that not all members from their respective parties are as divided as they seem. Congress to Campus requires that a Republican and Democrat are paired together so that students can see for themselves that, even on issues they disagree on, they can be civil.

In this way, they seek to portray a positive image of those that hold public service careers, thereby hoping to encourage students to consider that path themselves.