California Congressman Jared Huffman spoke to students and answered their questions on topics ranging from health care and school shootings, to political bias, and automation and globalization in Mead Theatre during lunch on Monday, May 15.
Senior Jacob Nishimura, who organized the event, used his connections from working on the Hillary Clinton campaign to contact Huffman. Nishimura said that his inspiration to organize the event came from Breakthrough Day, a program for racial awareness held at Tam on February 27.
“One of the things…that was missing from [Breakthrough Day] was the part of civic engagement, because there are obviously these problems that we have to address,” Nishimura said. “I thought what better way than to actually get involved in government, ask your representative questions, and find out what happens.”
When asked about the current debate around Trump’s American Health Care Act, Congressman Huffman offered a two-step plan that would be his ideal solution.
“[First] we have to solve health insurance, which is way too expensive and unavailable for too many people. I think the best way to do that is to have a national health insurance program like every other industrialized country,” he said.
The second part of Congressman Huffman’s plan centered around correcting the flaws in our current health system. “Our healthcare system is still flawed because it encourages lots and lots of procedures, because… The more scans and x-rays and tests of this and that, the more people make at every stop in our healthcare system… Our health care costs are just way higher than every other comparable country in the world.”
In terms of the extreme bipartisanism the country is experiencing, Congressman Huffman discouraged the tribal nature of American citizens. “Don’t feel like on any given issue that comes along you’ve got to find out what’s the Democratic side of that issue so that I can sort of suit up and go to battle with the Republican side of it. Think it through, you know challenge yourself a little bit, and you might find that on a few issues your label, or your tribe, or your party, isn’t actually where you come out,” he said.
Next the congressman explained how he is addressing this tribal nature. “I think I can only do it one relationship at a time. So I’m always looking for Republican colleagues who I can first get to know and talk with about issues and then if we can establish a relationship, a trust and civility, maybe there are some issues we can do together,” he said.
Congressman Huffman made it clear that he enjoys hearing from his constituents, but further explained how the like-minded Democrats that he represents can make a difference in the political field. “There are a number of issues where some of the advocacy needs to happen in other districts… We have a lot of people that are very upset, very opposed to the Republican health care bill. They can contact me all they want, they’re welcome to, but what we really need to do is go over to Modesto and talk to Congressman Jeff Denham, and ask him why he voted for this thing that hurts so many people in California.”
In addition, Congressman Huffman discussed the national service bill he is submitting to congress that would significantly increase the range of national service programs for Americans.
“You know John F. Kennedy inspired a whole generation in the 1960’s by his call to service, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,’ and he created the Peace Corps… We’ve expanded service over the years to include Americorp and a few other things, but in recent years its been declining,” he said. “There are thousands and thousand of young people and even mid-career and older people that would love to go spend a year or more of their lives in service…doing any number of good things and we’re not providing them that opportunity.”
Many students stayed after lunch to shake the congressman’s hand and ask him additional questions. “I think a lot of the students found it very interesting, and I think it was very cool to have him come to our school and to get that exposure…I think it had a positive impact,” senior Eva Brazer said.
Nishimura was also pleased with the event. “I think it completely [had the effect I wanted it to], I think we had around two hundred kids there… The congressman’s answers were amazing, the students questions were very deep and smart for high school students,” he said.