D.C. Lawmaker Touts Importance of Voting to High School Seniors
Although he was in Del Norte County to talk with constituents about airport and veterans’ issues this week, congressman Jared Huffman also took time for his younger constituents on Thursday.
During his second visit to Del Norte County, Huffman (D-San Rafael) spoke with Del Norte High School seniors taking AP government and economics, many of whom are headed off to college next year or will get their first jobs.
“They have a lot of concerns,” said social studies teacher Lisa Howard. “They are our future voters, so it’s important for them to recognize who Huffman is. It’s (also) an opportunity for some one-on-one time with the congressman.”
Huffman discussed topics ranging from water rights issues and dam removal on the Klamath River to job creation, transportation infrastructure and marijuana policy. He talked about his career as an attorney before he entered politics, serving first in the California State Assembly and then in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Huffman also stressed how important it is for everyone, including those who have just entered or are on the brink of adulthood, to vote.
“Even though right now you may not think your vote matters — it may seem abstract to you — the truth is there is a lot of important stuff that is going to affect your world and your lives, and you need to take ownership,” he told the students. “Your vote is one important way to do that.”
One issue that’s important for young voters to think about, Huffman continued, is student loan interest rates. The government isn’t providing the grants needed for students to be able to afford college; interest rates are high and the jobs aren’t always there. College, he said, is becoming a hard sell for many people.
Climate change is another issue young voters should be concerned about, he said.
“The people we elect and the policies they stand for are going to make a difference about whether we do something about this problem or just let it continue to get worse and worse,” he said. “If it does, I may not see all of the worst impacts of it in my lifetime, but you will. The things (scientists) are projecting are really quite scary, and it’s going to fall on your generation actually to bear the impact of it if we don’t get moving pretty quickly and make some changes.”
When one student asked the congressman what he and his colleagues are doing to create more and better jobs, Huffman spoke about transportation infrastructure as well as the need for broadband service in rural areas. In the weeks and months to come, Huffman, who was appointed to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said he will argue for increasing the gas tax.
Even though cars have become more fuel-efficient and folks are using less gas, the tax hasn’t increased since the early 1990s, and most of that funding is used to pay for repairs to roads and bridges, he said.
When another student asked how much of an increase Huffman would like to see to the gas tax, he said at least 25 cents per gallon is needed to “meet our needs and fully fund the highway trust fund.” The current gasoline tax is 18.4 cents per gallon.
“You guys may not like the sound of a gas tax increase, but I’m here to tell you if you want to have roads to drive on and bridges that won’t collapse, we just have to pay for it,” he said. “Probably the only way we can do it is to have a pretty significant increase to the gas tax. But it will put people to work; it will help the economy; and the benefits far outweigh the sacrifices, in my opinion.”
Huffman also spoke of politics as a career choice, saying that students should find out what they’re passionate about before entering politics. Before he was elected to the California State Assembly in 2006, Huffman was a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, focusing on fisheries and water law. He said his interest in that subject led him to politics.
“I serve with people that opened pizza restaurants, were doctors and nurses, farm workers, (from) every walk of life, and somehow they made it into the United States Congress,” he said. “There’s no one way to get there. Follow your passion; see where it takes you, and odds are you might have opportunities down that road to become a leader in public policy.”