Congressmen Visit Millikin


Athena Pajer

Two events, one night. The evening of September 21st, 2017 was a busy one in the UC. Of the two events scheduled to take place at 7 o’clock, I chose to attend a Q&A session with two former congressman: David Minge, Democratic representative for the 2nd district in Minnesota, and Thomas Kuykendall, Republican representative for the 36th district in California.

        David Minge has had an enduring political career. He first earned his bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College and then went on to earn his law degree from the University of Chicago. He served in the 103rd, 104th, 105th and 106th congresses and joined the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 2002-2012.

        Thomas Kuykendall had a notably different career, first being a veteran serving in the Marines during the Vietnam War. He also graduated from Oklahoma City University and received an MBA in San Diego State University. He was a member of the California State Assembly and May of Ranchos Palos Verdes, California, before becoming a state representative.

        Both candidates came from different backgrounds and political parties. However, David Minge characterized himself as a moderate-to-conservative Democrat while Kuykendall is a moderate Republican. In a time when the majority of today’s politicians hail from either the far left or the far right, the session offered a starkly different experience that what we are prone to see on television. Neither representative openly argued against the other’s viewpoint during the session because the objective to get students interested, informed and involved in the political process unified them. Their mutual goal was to convince students to speak with their congressmen and vote, not to bicker over partisan politics.

        Students were not interested in arguing over partisan issues, either. Those who asked questions primarily inquired about their experiences and views towards the political process. They discussed book recommendations to issues they see more clearly in hindsight—perhaps ones in which they regret their stance. Kuykendall did recommend a book: The Constitution. “The Constitution was never meant to make things easy.” Kuykendall said. He went on to tell his troubles with the Constitution when trying to create a pro-choice bill. He said that the issue of abortion was “too ingrained in human nature” for us to reach a complete consensus—especially not one that will last long enough to make a difference. “We should focus on the problems we can actually solve, first.” Kuykendall said.

        On issues that he sees more clearly in hindsight, the discriminatory penalties for cocaine vs. crack possession stood out most to Minge. He said that he was aware of the issue based on anecdotal evidence, but he refused to take action against it because he did not believe there were enough studies to prove that it was a serious problem. Now, of course, he sees that there were a lot of studies released which he failed to recognize during his time in office. If students can learn anything from that mistake, it is never to dismiss an issue without researching.

        This was an example of how our representatives can make mistakes. Remember that politicians—however moderate—are both people and politicians.

        “Congress is held in low esteem” Minge said, and went on to list previous administrations when America saw worse turmoil—worse corruption. Perhaps it has, but to the audience it sounded like, “Things could be worse.”

        That was not the only moment one could have said, “Ah! There you are, traditional politics!” From the beginning of the session, it became apparent that the students would need to take every word with a grain of salt when Kuykendall said, “One of the things we sometimes say—he [Minge] will reiterate this, I’m sure—we’ve been asked just about as many questions as you can imagine, and if we don’t want to answer it, we just won’t. We’re skilled at that. We’re professionals in answering questions to ‘our’ satisfaction.”

        In the end, this was a good experience as long as the students thought critically about the congressmen’s rhetoric. The congressmen gave us plenty of advice, but it is our duty to question it. That is the political process.