Congressman Mark DeSaulnier Holds SMC Town Hall to Discuss Students’ Concerns

Congressman Mark DeSaulnier Holds a Town Hall for SMC StudentsWith election year having finally crept up on us, political concerns have become the talk of the town. In preparation for the election, on Nov. 5, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier packed Saint Mary’s Claeys Lounge for a town hall style meeting to address the most urgent issues facing Saint Mary’s students—and all of us. DeSaulnier, who has been in the Congress since 2015 representing California’s 11th Congressional District, captured students’ attention with his mild-mannered but firm talk about government—and where it’s most lacking right now.

DeSaulnier, a Democrat representing Contra Costa County, emphasized the enormous importance of voting in the upcoming election. “The good news,” DeSaulnier said before the event, is that “we have the potential to educate multiple generations about the importance and best practices of being a good citizen and voting.

“The bad news,” he continued, “is largely how people get information on social media and how easy it is to mislead people with 24/7 news.”

Students’ Concerns

Upon arriving at the town hall, students were asked to take a survey and were told the congressman would address the results. Question 1 read: Rank the issues that are most important to you. SMC students replied this way:

  • 31 percent said climate change;
  • 25 percent said college affordability/student loan debt;
  • 17 percent said housing costs;
  • 14 percent said gun violence;
  • and 13 percent replied jobs.

The second question asked for students’ opinions on the following, using a 1 to 10 sliding scale (1 being strongly disagree, 10 being strongly agree). The results:

  • “The impeachment inquiry is necessary” rated a 7.2.
  • “Health care is a right” rated an 8.6.
  • “There are plenty of jobs in my field” rated a 5.3.

Students were also asked to respond to this question in one word: “How would you describe the state of our nation?” Replies included: divided, chaotic, discouraged, broken, depressed, fragile, scary, selfish, unsure, and troubling.

The Congressman Responds

Regarding student loan debt, a large consideration in the students’ minds, DeSaulnier mourned the condition of loan forgiveness. When Obama was president, he said, “Congress passed loan forgiveness…if you teach for 10 years, you can apply to the federal government to have your loans forgiven…. Now, we’re in that period, 10 years after the loan was granted, and the Department of Education has only approved 1 percent of the people who have applied for it. It’s pretty clear to us that this is a refusal to comply with the law.”

DeSaulnier also lamented the current administration’s lackadaisical approach to climate control and the reliance on the internal combustion engine, and cars and trucks. “That will change dramatically, I think, in your lifetime because we’re being told that particularly in China, they will develop a $25,000 battery-powered electric car within the next five to 10 years.” DeSaulnier emphasized the importance of transitioning jobs from the fossil fuel industry to “a whole different energy market.”

Affordable housing is an issue near to the congressman’s heart, as he told a story about his first apartment in San Francisco’s Marina District—which cost an enviable $300 a month. “Only 8 percent of the people who work in San Francisco can afford a medium-price housing unit in San Francisco. We have to do more. We have to incentivize.” He called for increased building of affordable housing along with providing incentives for the workforce.

Notably, DeSaulnier gave an honest assessment of the federal government: “I will tell you, Congress doesn’t act very well. Of all the levels of government I’ve been at, it’s the most dysfunctional institution.”

Gun Violence Prevention

Also front of mind among many of DeSaulnier’s constituents—and SMC’s students—is gun control. “We've got 320 million people who live in this country, but we’ve got by some estimates 360 million guns. You don’t need that many guns. You can still protect the second amendment.”

In a PowerPoint display, DeSaulnier presented students with these details regarding gun control in this country:

  • Gun violence claims over 30,000 lives annually in the United States.
  • The U.S. firearm homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 comparable countries.
  • Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population, but own 42 percent of the world’s guns.
  • Gun industry annual net profit is $1.5 billion.
  • Annual cost of gun violence is $290 billion.
  • Since 2003, state and local governments have given more than $120 million in tax subsidies to at least seven major firearms companies.

Practicing Democracy

Politics Professor Patrizia Longo, who introduced the congressman, applauded both him and the students for coming to this SMC town hall. “My hope in having a town hall meeting is for the students to practice democracy, to become informed about important issues that affect us, and to be active citizens.

“Having been born and raised in a country that was under a fascist dictator (Mussolini),” she continued, “I learned from my parents, who were involved in the Resistance, that democracy is fragile, and we have to be informed, vigilant, and involved in politics, or we will lose it.”

DeSaulnier serves on the Education and the Workforce, and Oversight and Government Reform Committees. He encourages students to apply for internships both in the local office and in Washington, D.C. Learn more at https://desaulnier.house.gov/.

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