Two former congressmen visited Missouri Western last Thursday in celebration of Constitution Day.
Former Congressmen Bill Sarpalius, D-Texas, and Steven Kuykendall, R-Calif., came as part of the Congress to Campus program that was hosted by the departments of Economics, Sociology and Political Science, and History and Geography. They spoke at several events and classrooms throughout the day to discuss the Constitution, campaign finance reform and the lack of cooperation in federal politics today.
At the start of Constitution Day, a federal holiday that began in 2004, the congressmen spoke about the document as the subject of the day’s celebration.
“I call it the Miracle Day, when our constitution was approved,” Sarpalius said. “When they put all those brilliant minds together, they put together a beautiful, beautiful document.”
“The document itself has proven its ability to be flexible, from the time people rode on horseback and sailed on sailboats to the time when we all pick up our iPhones and know more about the world than when they started [writing the Constitution],” Kuykendall said.
A major theme of discussion was the role of corporate money in the political system today.
“When the Supreme Court made the ruling that corporations can now basically give an unlimited amount of money to elections, what they did with that ruling was basically put every member of Congress up for sale,” Sarpalius said.
Kuykendall throughout the day stressed that people vote and participate in the political process.
“A corporation can give you a lot of money, but it can’t go in the voting booth,” Kuykendall said. “So the power is still in the hands of the voter… You don’t have any say at all if you don’t vote.”
Sarpalius also voiced support for a citizen’s initiative to hold a constitutional convention to amend the Constitution and get rid of corporate money in politics.
“I think you have to go in there and amend the Constitution,” Sarpalius said. “I’m for a constitutional convention. I think we need to make some changes that Congress will not address.”
Later in the evening, the congressmen who have been out of office for over a decade discussed the seemingly dysfunctional and polarized nature of today’s Congress.
“Contentious times are not new to the United States,” Kuykendall said. “I would put out that one of the reasons we have dysfunction is because the public now perceives that to be the case, because they have a flow of information that they didn’t have 200 years ago.”
Political science professor Dr. Ed Taylor was involved in getting the Congress to Campus program to come to Missouri Western.
“I think it’s important to have the opportunity to talk with people who have been in the ‘devil’s den,’” Taylor said. “Americans look at politics and they say it’s broken, but they never really get the chance to talk to people who have tried to work within the system and hear their experiences.”
Junior political science major Doug Wilson was in one of the classes the congressmen visited.
“It was a really interesting conversation,” Wilson said, “mainly because the perspectives were so different from what we see today.”
History major Evan Banks attended several of the events that day.
“It’s a day to reflect on the good things that came about from the Constitution, the shortcomings of the Constitution, and how we can continue to endorse a living document,” Banks said.