OGDEN — Two former congressmen joined Weber State University students Monday for warm pizza and lively discussion on the value of public service.
“Get involved in public service and the political process,” said Richard Stallings (D-Idaho, 1985-1993). “If you won’t take responsibility, the nation will be taken over by those who will.”
Charles Djou (R-Hawaii, 2010-2011) agreed.
“Democracy only works if people take ownership,” Djou said. “The first step is voting. The second step is getting involved locally. When the nation was founded, community participation was a big part of life. I am somewhat disappointed that people don’t get involved today.”
Stallings, a 1965 graduate of what was then Weber State College, said he was happy to “come back home.” Stallings and Djou were in town as part of the Congress to Campus program, which sends bipartisan teams to universities around the country to talk to students considering public service and civic engagement. The men spoke at several Weber State gatherings and to classes at DaVinci Academy in Ogden.
“The Congress to Campus program allows students to have an honest conversation about how Congress works,” said Leah Murray, WSU associate professor of political science. “They don’t have to worry about getting any kind of bias or polish. The members are no longer running and will talk honestly.”
Both men on Monday lamented the fact that national politics have become so partisan.
“It’s really very tragic,” Stallings said. “Our system is not well-served by that.”
Stallings said he is especially appalled that at the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term, Republicans organized to block the new president from achieving his goals.
“They sandbagged Obama,” Stallings said. “For the Republican Party to just beat the hell out of this guy, and to take it as their mission, is disgraceful. They set a new low.”
Many students who attended Monday’s lunch were political science majors, and several asked about how to build careers in Washington, D.C., when it is so defined by political party.
“Staffs are also very divisive,” Djou said. “They are more partisan than they used to be.”
Stallings advised students to understand they might have to choose one party and stick with it, because they might not be welcomed onto the staff of a politician for a different party. He advised students not to be antagonistic in their comments.
“You can disagree without being disagreeable,” he said.
Both former congressmen suggested working locally for a candidate’s campaign.
“Find someone running for office, and volunteer,” Stallings said. “If that person wins, the candidate can get you in. If the candidate loses, he or she can write a letter (of recommendation) for you.”
“A 4.0 GPA is not going to help you as much as helping someone get into office,” he said.
Stallings also advised students that once they get a foot in the door, they should do their best work.
“Get in, work hard, be honest, get a good reputation. You are building your resume. Your work and reputation are what will take you to the next level. I don’t think you will necessarily be remembered for the money you accumulate, but for the lives you touch and the good you do.”
Djou advised students to prepare for a wild ride.
“In politics, you can rise pretty fast,” he said. “You can get a lot of great, great experience fast. It’s unlike any other industry out there.”
As the lunch ended and students prepared to head to their next classes, Stallings couldn’t help but get a little nostalgic, being back at Weber State.
“I’ve always been a fan of the school,” he said. “There was an ongoing poker game at the student union I frequented regularly. I met my wife here in a courtship and marriage class. I got a C in the class, but my marriage has survived 50 years in September.”