Three former members of Congress visited the University of South Dakota to encourage students to become politically active.
Former Reps. Dan Miller, Max Sandlin and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin discussed issues in American society today and answered questions from students and faculty in two open forums as part of the Congress to Campus program Oct. 29-30 in Farber Hall.
Miller, a Republican from Texas, earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Florida and went on to obtain his MBA from Emory University and later a Ph.D. from Louisiana State University.
Sandlin served in the House of Representatives from 1997 to 2005 as a Democratic Congressman representing Texas. A graduate of Baylor University, Sandlin currently directs government relations for the public strategies firm Mercury in Washington, D.C.
Beginning the forum Oct. 29 with a brief illustration of how Congress is operating as a result of terrorist events like Sept. 11, 2001, both Sandlin and Miller discussed topics of oversight and the role of the executive branch within Congress and the U.S. government as a whole. Miller pointed out several fluctuations with oversight throughout the years beginning in 1993 when President Bill Clinton was in office.
“Terrorism has essentially brought us all together,” Miller said in reference to oversight within Congress.
Believing that it has brought political realms together, Miller also said terrorist attacks have brought the American people closer together as well.
Finishing up an introduction on the war on terror, Sandlin spoke about the Patriot Act, saying the act lingers on the subject of privacy versus protection.
“It was enacted in a panic,” Sandlin said. “I think there was a little overreaction on the Patriot Act from the standpoint of invasion of privacy. I think now that things are a bit more settled down, the Patriot Act would have a tough time making it.”
In response to a question concerning drone usage and strategy, Miller said it’s a different psychology of warfare. He said it is amazing technology and an asset to the military.
Monday’s forum ended with a discussion regarding America’s trust in China. Sandlin and Miller agree there is a “healthy trust and mistrust” with the Chinese government.
“It’s a fascinating country,” Miller said. “Their economy grew extremely fast, and now it’s slowing down. Now you’ve got a group of people whose quality of life expectations don’t match the reality.”
Building from the central
subject of the role of Congress, Tuesday’s forum included topics pertaining to the Farm Bill, foreign policy and campaign
Herseth Sandlin, a South Dakota Democrat, was also present on Tuesday. A graduate of Georgetown University, Herseth Sandlin currently serves as general counsel and vice president for corporate development for Raven Industries. Herseth Sandlin began the forum talking about the setbacks presented by the lack of a Farm Bill.
“There’s uncertainty for producers and limitations in renewable energy programs,” Herseth Sandlin said. “The uncertainty may stop some people from moving forward.”
Herseth Sandlin also explained the struggle with finding common ground on the subject between Democrats and Republicans.
“Folks on the left don’t like the magnitude of the cuts to the nutrition program (in the Farm Bill),” she said. “We can’t pass it with just Republican votes.”
Sandlin stressed the importance of being in Washington, D.C., in order to pass the Farm Bill.
“You can’t pass a farm bill if you don’t work,” he said. “It’s not a surprise that they’ve got nothing done because you can’t pass all that legislation in just a few days.”
While part of the issue deals with the amount of work put into the program, Sandlin said the other part is politically charged.
“When you get into the paid programs, there are some very strict fiscal hawks,” Sandlin said. “What it probably got to was the Democrats were saying we need to support nutrition programs and feed America, versus those who said it was all about the numbers.”
Miller wrapped things up with a Floridian perspective.
“Florida Republicans wouldn’t vote for it,” he said. “(Speaker of the House John) Boehner probably doesn’t think he would be able to get the votes to pass such a costly bill,” Miller said.
All three politicians praised the work of President Barack Obama in regards to foreign policy, addressing the president’s timely actions and his selection of foreign policy cabinet members. Sandlin said foreign policy is important to the American
“Foreign policy is going to continue to become more important as we address the issues of security of the United States,” Sandlin said. “The main duty of the federal government is to protect our citizens, protect our military and protect our shores.”
Herseth Sandlin followed with reference to the appropriations committee, acknowledging the accountability of those receiving large contracts on behalf of the military.
“Those on the appropriations committee play an important role in oversight as to how money is being spent on foreign policy issues,” Herseth Sandlin said. “The president has done a fantastic job choosing foreign policy leadership.”
Following with campaign funding, both Sandlin and Herseth Sandlin said it’s problematic, saying undisclosed spending creates a barrier between workers.
“Undisclosed money is problematic for our democracy, but it’s also turning our legislators into professional fundraisers, which takes time away from being with committees and colleagues,” Herseth Sandlin said.
Sandlin backed these claims by saying undisclosed spending goes against the basis of the democratic system.
“The issue is not what’s wrong or right in legislation, but it’s a private fight between who’s going to win, and once they win, they start the next campaign,” Sandlin said. “You have to hope the public has the sense to make decisions about these things.”