BELOIT - U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, shared his thoughts on everything from climate change to student loans in a light-hearted conversation with Beloit Memorial High School students in advanced placement government and American democracy classes on Friday afternoon.
Government teacher James Hoey said he challenged his students to send Pocan a tweet, noting he would give them extra credit if Pocan responded. Although Pocan didn't get to the tweet, the Congressman agreed to come to class in person after being contacted by student Cullen Schooff, son of Dan Schooff who is a former member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from 1997 to 2004.
When greeting the students, Pocan urged Hoey to give the whole class extra credit, noting its difficult to get to all his tweets with 12 to 14 hour long days. He explained his role as Congressman before opening up the floor to questions from a generation which he said impressed him with its activism.
"I'm so encouraged by your generation and collegiate age folks. We wouldn't be talking about gun control if it wasn't for you guys," Pocan said. "There's no question the people that are the most active on climate change are people your age."
Pocan noted he would be open to the approval of a study to research lowering the voting age to 16, an amendment put in HR 1.
When asked if there is a lot of bickering in Congress, Pocan said it is a divided atmosphere. He attributes it to the rise of the Tea Party in 2010 as well as gerrymandering of legislative districts. He noted only 20 percent of congressional districts in the state currently are truly competitive.
"Gerrymandering is the single greatest reason we have the acrimony we have," Pocan said.
When asked his thoughts about climate change, he said there has been a renewed conversation on the issue, and House Democrats have formed a special committee to examine the issue.
When asked about gun control, Pocan said more needs to be done, noting there are bills with 80 to 90 percent of public support.
"Every time we have a mass shooting, we have a moment of silence but not a moment of action," he said.
Pocan told the students comprehensive immigration reform is sorely needed.
"We don't allow almost any refugees in, which is pretty shameful as the U.S. is a nation of immigrants," Pocan said.
During Pocan's first session in Congress he said there was a bipartisan bill which came out of the Senate which would have included extra protection at the border and also provided a pathway for citizenship. However, it didn't make it any further which was a disappointment to him.
Although Pocan said some Republicans are open to discussing comprehensive immigration reform, he doesn't foresee much progress on immigration with President, Donald Trump.
Pocan said Trump makes promises even if they are "not real or logical."
He noted the president is fighting over money for a border wall which won't protect the U.S. from drug traffickers or gangs as legal ports of entry are where most drugs make it in the U.S.
Pocan said he will continue to promote the Debt Free College Act, where the federal, state and public university system would contribute funds and students would do work study 10 to 12 hours a week in order to get all college-related expenses covered. It's hoped to reduce the growing student debt crisis.
When asked about protecting the LGBT community, he said the House of Representatives will pass a bill by June called the Equality Act to protect the LGBT community from discrimination in housing or employment or other civil rights violations. Pocan said in the majority of states people can get married and lose their job or housing because of who they love. He said there are efforts underway to build Republican support for the bill and he expects it will be signed into law, if not this session, within the next six years.
When asked his least favorite part of the job by students, Pocan said it would be flying. He noted nine of his last 13 flights have been delayed or canceled.
When asked if there were bands he preferred over Nickelback, which he dissed on the floor of the House of Representatives, he joked he's still not a big fan, but he loves The Grateful Dead.