Students gain political skills

Tracy Ellingson

Abraham Lincoln materialized in University political science classes this quarter, trying to convince students to get out and vote.
Members of the Minnesota Student Association’s Legislative Affairs Committee and a coalition of other student organizations sent an actor dressed as the former president into classrooms in hopes of encouraging more students to vote Nov. 5.
This is only one of the projects in which the Legislative Affairs Committee has been active. With less than a month until election day, committee chairwoman Jen McLish said she has a long list of events she and her members must complete.
In addition to voter registration, committee members are working with local community colleges to set up a debate between U.S. Senate candidates Paul Wellstone and Reform Party candidate Dean Barkley. The debate would focus on issues important to students.
McLish said members have asked Republican candidate Rudy Boschwitz to participate but have received little response.
Committee members also invited candidates from lesser-known political parties, such as the Reform Party of Minnesota and the Grassroots Party of Minnesota, to a Homecoming concert next week. Candidates will be allowed to distribute information about their parties to students, but are not to use the time to campaign for themselves.
McLish said the committee’s post-election agenda is not set because of all the campaign activity. But, she said, during the non-election periods committee members spend time at the state Capitol talking with legislators and collecting information for other students.
“(Legislators) are very willing to listen to students there,” McLish said. “They don’t want to listen to paid lobbyists as much as they want a student who is voluntarily going because they’re interested.”
Last year the committee started a program called Legislative Watch. MSA interns went to committee meetings at the Capitol, talked with legislators and wrote summaries on current issues to share with MSA and University students.
Scott Roecker, a Carlson School of Management senior and former program participant, spent his internship tracking the bonding issue, which dealt with how much money the legislature would allocate to the construction and renovation of campus buildings.
Roecker said that although legislators seemed to appreciate students’ opinions, many other factors weighed into their final decisions on the issues. “(But) I think it helped to have us around,” Roecker said.
One of the main objectives of Legislative Watch and the legislative committee, said Cori Ertz, last year’s committee chairwoman, is making students feel comfortable in an intimidating political environment like the Capitol.
Roecker said students can feel pretty insignificant when they come face to face with legislators. But, he said, it is important for students to spend time at the Capitol, sticking up for what they believe.