In my many years in politics, the phrase ‘young people are our future,’ has come up frequently, but politicians often just say it, without taking the time to consider the effect that high school and college aged students can have on our country moving forward.
One of the things I enjoyed most as a Senate candidate, State Senator, and United States Senator was the opportunity to meet with students in high school and college and listen to what they had to say about the outlook of our country. It always seemed to me that their concerns were rooted in real problems that they faced in their daily lives – worries about finding a job after graduation, being able to save money efficiently, and living in a safe and secure country.
These kind of real world problems are what motivated me to run for political office in the first place when I was elected a property assessor in the town where I lived with my wife and two daughters. I saw that I had a unique skillset to help my neighbors and improve their lives. That should always be the basis for any form of public service and it’s something that I have not forgotten in my 20-plus years in politics.
I’ve also seen that young men and women in their late teens and early twenties have such a deep passion for this country and it reminds me of myself at that age. When I was 18, I joined the Army National Guard as a way to serve my country and my involvement with the National Guard has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life. There are many ways besides military service to work on behalf of your country and I’d strongly encourage all high school and college students to find some way to serve. I know that the reward and feeling I have gotten from serving the greatest country in the world is indescribable and everyone should have the opportunity to experience this feeling too.
Given the heat and contention of this political season, it’s important to remember that the best candidates should be public servants at heart who are committed to going to Washington to work on behalf of the American people. That is something that I focused on when I was elected to the Senate. While I was a Republican, I knew that my primary concern always had to be my constituents and serving their best interest. I took steps to do this, working with members of the opposing party on different bipartisan pieces of legislation that helped veterans find new jobs, allowed businesses to raise much-needed capital, and cracked down on members of Congress who took part in insider trading.
It may not be popular among the very rigid party bases that exist in our country today, but I will always be proud of my record as one of the most bipartisan Senators in a time of increased partisanship. There are some issues where finding common ground with the other party is nearly impossible, but the first priority of public servants has to be working to improve the lives of those that elected you. That is something I never forgot and I hope that our leaders of tomorrow take this important principle to heart.
Going forward, we need our public servants to do a better job representing us than the current class of political leaders. Today’s politicians’ priorities are re-election, fundraising, and appeasing the base of their respective party, likely in that order. That is not a good development for our politics or our country.
We need more selfless leaders that don’t take the mindset of traditional politicians. Leaders from outside the current system that can challenge the status quo and actually serve in the best interest of the voters is far more desirable than self-interested candidates who care more about their own legacy than the people who elected them.
I hope young people keep this in mind during this particular election because this is such a critical time for our country when we have to make important decisions about our identity as a nation. More importantly, I hope students embrace this kind of message and do a better job than my generation when it comes to public service. I encourage all to serve because our country needs new and fresh ideas to continue to remain exceptional, but I also encourage all that do serve, please do it for your country, not yourself. That is the kind of service that made America great in the past and will make us even greater moving forward.