Coons talks policy on campus
Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 11:04
U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) encouraged university students to step out of their comfort zones and take an active role in public policy making in their community and throughout the world last week.
Coons addressed an audience of more than 300 students, faculty and city residents in the Gore Recital Hall of the Roselle Center for the Arts on April 3 as part of the School of Public Policy and Administration’s annual lecture series, which features political and academic speakers.
The senator discussed his political career, personal history and decision to study at the University of Nairobi in Kenya for one semester while at Amherst College studying chemistry and political science. He said many of his friends and family did not support his choice to study in Kenya, but the trip helped him challenge his previously held assumptions about the world.
“It was a choice that no one wanted me to make, put me out of my comfort zone and into a place in the world where I was relevant, and that gave me genuine insight,” Coons said. “It made me think about why folks are poor, why folks are rich, and the leadership role the U.S. seeks, chooses or changes in the world.”
Coons said he worked as a volunteer relief worker in Kenya after his study abroad trip. He was elected county executive for New Castle County in 2004 and became a U.S. Senator after the 2010 midterm elections. He currently serves on the U.S. Senate’s budget, foreign affairs, judiciary and energy and natural resources committees.
Public policy professor Edward Freel, who has coordinated the speaker series for 10 years, said Coons displays leadership, policy and service, the themes of this year’s lectures.
“He is a leader, an exemplary public citizen and his life has really been marked by public service,” Freel said. “He is already becoming a national figure as a spokesperson for the Democratic party.”
He said Coons’ visit allowed students to meet with a political leader and express concerns on issues they want legislators to address and learn how they obtained their position in public policy.
“I ask all our speakers to talk about their background and how they reached the position they hold,” Freel said. “It helps students relate with them and realize that all these people at one time or another were students just like them.”
Although Coons’ visit was primarily a lecture, he said speaking events often let him hear the concerns of those who he represents in Washington, D.C.
“It’s important to listen to students and faculty and their concerns, and to be held accountable to the people I work for,” Coons said.
After briefly discussing his political experience, Coons answered questions from audience members, which discussed topics such as finance reform, Medicare and political action committees. He said that policy makers should focus on the issue surrounding Super PACs, political action committees that cannot directly support a candidate’s campaign financially, but can collect funds from corporations, unions and other groups, and from individuals, without legal limits.
“After the federal budget, it’s the most important issue facing our country,” Coons said. “Inevitably with that kind of money being concentrated in a few hands and being given to a few motivated candidates there will be scandals, investigations, missteps and even greater loss of confidence in our legislature.”
Sophomore Ryan Leonard said Coons’ account of being in Afghanistan was particularly memorable, because it highlighted a global issue that many Americans don’t pay attention to.
“I think the story about Afghanistan was the most eye-opening in the sense that it really brought up a perspective that most people don’t really hold with what is really at stake there,” Leonard said. “That was really the highlight for me.”
Junior Mary Crowley said she was impressed with Coons’ ability to discuss a variety of wide-ranging issues, many of which were related to international conflicts.
“I think Sen. Coons is an incredibly eloquent speaker and has such a nuance about a variety of policy issues, both domestic and international, and leaves people with a new determination to keep fighting for certain policy initiatives,” Crowley said. “It was a privilege to experience that.”
As the event concluded, Coons encouraged the audience to keep an open mind.
“Challenge long-held assumptions,” he said. “Don’t ever underestimate how hard another person’s circumstances are and the things we can do to make a difference.”