I recently had the privilege to participate in a U.S. civics discussion at a First District high school in Gosnell, near Arkansas’ northeastern border. The 9:40 a.m. class, taught by 40-plus year teaching veteran Danny Williams, consisted of approximately 20-30 high school ninth graders; a mix of wide-eyed early risers and others who still hadn’t quite shaken the previous night’s sleep.
Each time I walk into a classroom, I never really know the extent of the questions I’ll receive from our youth, because I realize what I would’ve asked at that age.
Instead, after an initial hesitance — which always accompanies a “Question and Answer” event — these young folks greeted me with challenging, thought-provoking, and well-informed responses.
They wanted to know about U.S. trade policy with Cuba. I fielded a question regarding Guantanamo Bay. Another student asked for proof about my bipartisan voting record. And yet, another grilled me on how to implement policies to balance our country’s burgeoning budget.
These were great questions; coming from high school freshmen, no less.
I brag on these students because I know they represent a larger segment within our First District. Many of our communities have seen ups and downs economically, and yet, our students continue to flourish through the efforts of our educators and administrators.
It took me until adulthood to really notice how Washington’s affairs shape what happens back home.
For example, our nation’s leaders have done a poor job crafting an environment where small businesses can succeed. These businesses create jobs in local communities and often employ our nation’s young people. Through more common-sense regulation and by improving our tax codes, small businesses would have a better chance to succeed in economically uncertain times. In turn, unemployment rates —which sit at nearly 21 percent for the 16-19 age group — would likely fall. The more these businesses succeed and employ local workers, the stronger our economy grows, and our country can start the slow ascent from its $17 trillion debt pit.
These students grasped this problem at a much younger age than I did.
Which brings me to one of the best questions I received that day: “What can we do to make Arkansas a better place to live?”
Shouldn’t improving a state’s quality of life serve as the focal point of any Congressional member?
Since I’m from Arkansas, my responsibility lies there, specifically to the First District. Before I push any legislation, I should always ask that question; as should my fellow Congressmen, our Senators, and our President. Our constituents should hold us to that high standard, too.
Maybe if we had learned to ask it sooner, we wouldn’t face $17-plus trillion in national debt, high unemployment rates, and a low approval rate of Congress.
So I ask us all, just as I received the question, “What can we do to make Arkansas a better place to live?”
That’s a good start.