BY TUCKER REILLY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Former United States Representatives Peter H. Kostmayer and David A. Trott visited St. Bonaventure University this week as part of the Congress to Campus program. The two former members of Congress visited political science classes Monday and Tuesday, in addition to participating in a public forum Monday evening.
The Congress to Campus program is a program spanning over 40 years where bipartite teams of former representatives are dispatched to college campuses and engage in dialogue with students. Kostmayer served in the United States House of Representatives from 1977 to 1981 and from 1983 to 1993 as a Democrat in the 8th District of Pennsylvania. Trott served two terms from 2015 to 2019, representing Michigan’s 11th District as a Republican.
Dr. Josiah Lambert, Associate Professor of Political Science and Chairman of the Department of Political Science, described the history of Congress at the Bonaventure Campus.
“[Former] Representative Jim Walsh is a college alumnus and worked on the Board of Directors of Former Members of Congress. We invited him and another former member here in 2016. After that I thought, “This is a really cool event” and we were able to hold it every year except last year due to the pandemic.
The main program took place on Monday evening, during which political science students and campus media were invited to dinner before a panel discussion with former members of Congress. Also present at the dinner were the Acting President of the University, Dr. Joseph Zimmer, the Acting Provost, Dr. David Hilmey, the Mayor of Olean, William J. Aiello and the Deans of several schools.
The young political science graduate Alberto Calderon gave the opening speech of the evening and gave small gifts to the guests of the university.
“It’s a great experience to be part of the university’s political science program,” Calderon said. “Monday night was a particularly interesting time that gave us a glimpse of what our country is currently facing. Our nation is very divided and it has certainly become a serious concern as to which direction we are going. to be invited and to be part of the forum and the dinner was a real honor for me.
The hour-long panel discussion that followed, titled “How Can We Overcome Partisan Polarization in Our Political System?” Was open to the public and very busy. Kostmayer and Trott received several questions from Lambert, before responding to public comments.
When asked what fueled division in the American political landscape, each candidate offered a unique answer. Trott focused on a multitude of sources, including social media and journalism.
“Social media, elected officials and a fundamental belief in inequality all foster division in our country,” Trott said.
Kostmayer pointed to former President Donald Trump as a source of division, but admitted there was a larger movement behind him.
“I don’t think there is any question of our democracy being attacked, especially by our former president,” Kostmayer said. “But – and I wouldn’t say that if I were a candidate – elected officials respond to the people they represent. You have to face what the people in the country are feeling at the end of the day. ”
During the discussion, the two speakers suggested positive changes to the federal government. Trott, describing his frustration in the past with ignorance of popular law, recommended automatic voting of bills in the House of Representatives – in which any bill with a sufficient number of sponsors is immediately voted on.
Both speakers agreed that empowering the large number of non-voting moderates in the United States could help resolve the issues. Kostmayer suggested that moderates should be encouraged to act in their own best interests, ignoring many of the “culture wars” issues that tend to hamper politics. Trott suggested a reform of gerrymandering, which would reduce the incumbent’s advantage in elections and make solving problems a higher priority than retention. However, this would likely encourage more expensive racing and Trott concluded that it could eventually lead to a difficult review of campaign finance law.
The panel officially ended after an hour, but some students stayed to speak with the former members of Congress. Lambert praised the event, highlighting the participation and the major topics discussed.
“I thought it went well,” said Lambert. “You know, they [the representatives] want to meet students; they don’t want to meet with me or the administrators – so the good turnout and activity on Monday was very encouraging. I also thought we were just starting the conversation during this hour. Hope the program got the students thinking about these things [in politics] and gave them something to take away and meditate on themselves.