Former U.S. Congress members Barry Goldwater Jr. and David Minge may have differing political views, but they set those differences aside this week to talk to USD students about the importance of political civility and participation.
The two former Congressman were at USD from this past Sunday to Tuesday as a part of the Congress to Campus program.
The purpose of Congress to Campus is to help students learn about how the government works directly from those who have been a part of it. The program sends bipartisan pairs of former Congress members to a variety of college campuses across the country each year.
Funded by the Farber Center, the program costs around $1,500 per visit, said William Richardson, chair of the political science department.
USD participates in Congress to Campus at least once every four years in order to give each class of students a chance to listen and learn, he added.
Richardson said that he wants students to have a greater appreciation of how difficult it is to make legislation, as well as the personal differences and policy challenges members of Congress face.
“Above all, I want them to take away in this current environment that people with very partisan views can be friends and can work together and can craft legislation together that is for the good of the whole,” Richardson said.
Goldwater, a former Republican representative from California, and Minge, a former Democratic representative from Minnesota, have worked together on a number of other Congress to Campus events around the country.
Goldwater and Minge met with students and faculty during class sessions, meals and a lecture on Monday night during their two and a half days on campus.
Minge said he has been participating in the program since 2001.
“This Congress to Campus program is an opportunity to continue to do the same thing,” Minge said. “So, it’s one of the more rewarding and I think important things that we can do is trying to contribute to the understanding of students of what is happening.”
Goldwater said he has also enjoyed his experience in Congress to Campus.
“If I had another life to live I could very well become a professor and teacher because I enjoy it,” Goldwater said. “One of the things we do when you’re in Congress is go to schools, high schools, universities and talk to students. I enjoyed that, so I’ve been enjoying talking to students. It’s fun.”
Mary Pat Bierle’s U.S. Congress class was one of several that Goldwater and Minge visited this past Monday. The class is a simulation of Congress – students write and argue bills just as they would if they were actually a member in the House of Representatives.
Students had the opportunity to present their bills to the former Congress members, who then asked questions as if it were an actual committee meeting.
Senior Ben Deverman, a political science major, was one student that had his bill challenged Monday.
“The Congress to Campus program as a whole is great because it’s getting first-hand experience right in front of you. And you can ask them questions and it’s a very casual setting,” he said. “They care about what you’ve been working on the entire semester and that’s invaluable. You really can’t buy that experience.”
Bierle had Goldwater and Minge in four of her classes and said the experience was “fabulous.”
“I think that most people have a very distorted perception of Congress, and I think that it’s important for people to see that members of Congress are real people, who are very dedicated public servants,” Bierle said. “This is how you learn how it really works.”
Minge said he hopes this program encourages students to participate in government, as well as inspire them to follow the career that best suits them, whether it be in or out of the political sphere.
“Hopefully more people will have a realistic understanding of how government works and what to expect,” Minge said.