Former congressmen visit Baker campus
They may be retired, but former U.S. Congressmen Jim Slattery (D-Kan.) and John J. Rhodes III (R-Ariz.) are staying active in their roles as public servants.
In fact, that's why they are touring around as part of the Congress to Campus Program, which had a stop at Baker University this week. The former congressmen were involved in a host of events during their two-day stay, including a public forum Monday night. Earlier Monday, there was a press conference at Baker where the duo explained what the program was to accomplish, as well as share a few political views.
"This is my third visit and this is Jim's first," Rhodes said of the Congress to Campus stop. "Many of the congressmen involved are retired, but still very vigorous. The idea was to send them across the college campuses to spur involvement."
Slattery said it's important that people understand what it takes to make government work.
"People in our country have a fundamental ignorance about how difficult it is to self govern," Slattery said. "That's in the U.S., in Kansas and Baldwin City.
"We have to get off our duffs, turn off the televisions and reclaim our country starting at the grass roots level," he said. "If we stay the course, we're on a very dangerous path."
Both agreed that the Congress to Campus Program is all about spurring interest in public service.
"My purpose here is to encourage young people to get involved," said Slattery. "I think it's important for all people to get involved. That's what we're trying to encourage is public service."
"That's why we're here," Rhodes said in agreement. "We're not here to recruit Republicans and Democrats. We're here representing the best that people can do and that's public service.
"Public service kind of has a stigma attached to it," he said. "We would like to change that. It's an honorable and necessary function that citizens need to fill."
While the former congressmen agreed on the value of the campus program, they didn't always agree on what's going on in Washington now that they're not involved. Slattery is especially concerned about tax cuts that affect the ability to pay off the Federal government's deficit.
"It's just painful to watch the congress move away from the positive route we were on," said Slattery. "I think we're headed for an upswing economically next year, but you can't go on having $400-$500 billion deficits. We were headed toward paying off those deficits."
Rhodes agreed on the problem with deficits, but not on the tax cuts. He also pointed a few fingers at how it happened.
"Actually, the fact of the matter is, Jim is right about the negative impact on our country and economy with the deficits," said Rhodes. "I truly believe that's not a Republican/Democrat issue. I think everyone our age has come to the conclusion that mortgaging the future is not in the best interest of the country.
"We could debate how it happened," he said. "It certainly happened when Clinton was president and the Congress was controlled by Republicans. I think the tax cuts are a good idea. I think the turn around in the economy is occurring and is due to the reduction of taxes. I think we definitely agree that you can't go on spending more than you have. That means you have to make tough decisions."
Slattery took exception to part of the tax cuts.
"I don't have an objection to some of the tax cuts, but I will say I'm against the tax cuts for people making over $250,000 a year," Slattery said. "I think tax cuts should be made for those trying to raise a family on less than $75,000 a year."
Both agreed that the "death tax" is wrong and adversely affects small family farms and small business owners. As for those "tough decisions," Rhodes said they included items that previously were sacred cows.
"They are going to have an affect on social security, welfare and medicare," he said. "When Jim and I were in Congress, it was political suicide to say medicare should be based on a means basis. It's not politically incorrect anymore
"Something has to be done about social security," said Rhodes. "Again, when Jim and I were in Congress you didn't talk about social security. Part of the agreement on the Congress to Campus Program is not to be partisan, so I won't say anything. But, something has to be done about social security."
The campus program wrapped up Tuesday and the former congressmen were to leave Baldwin City today.