Michigan State students connected with state representatives on a personal level Feb. 25, as Bailey Hall Government hosted Michigan Reps. Padma Kuppa and Julie Brixie for a small group discussion and dinner at Brody Hall.
“Seeing someone’s name on the ballot or reading about them online is a lot different than actually being able to interact with them,” Bailey Hall President Juhi Parekh said. “An event when students can ask questions with the people they actually elected themselves is a great opportunity to understand the impact your voting can have.”
Kuppa and Brixie introduced themselves, then discussed issues including student debt, climate change and political activism before fielding questions.
“I believe that regardless of your political beliefs, being registered to vote and participating in politics is extremely important,” Bailey Hall Treasurer Lauren Sawyer said. “We’re very privileged to have the right to vote, many countries don’t.
“Bridging the gap between students and someone in office gives students who might be interested in government the chance to see what that job is like. They can also ask questions or raise concerns.”
After the event, Kuppa and Brixie echoed the importance for activism in politics, especially as a college student.
“Democracy dies in darkness. The minute you stop paying attention and stop being aware of what’s going on, you let other people take over things that impact your daily life,” Kuppa said.
Brixie added, “It’s vitally important, the future of our country depends on it. When we have low participation rates in elections, the people who hold office are not representing the demographics of the population.
“Especially for young people, it’s important to get involved because a bunch of old people are making decisions that are going to impact you for the rest of your life. The importance of young people participating in the democratic process and having their voice be heard cannot be understated.”
Parekh said, “College students and young people are one of the largest demographics in terms of voting, so it’s very important we get students out there voting and using their voice to make a difference. It’s a struggle to get young people to the polls.”
Kuppa, who’s in her first term of office representing Michigan’s 41st District in the Troy/Clawson area, acknowledged the difficulty of funding her campaign as a woman.
“Before I even got to state government, I had to raise money to run a campaign,” Kuppa said. “It was very obvious to me that people tend to write bigger checks to male candidates.”
Brixie, who’s also in her first term, noted similar struggles.
“The treatment by the media to female candidates is very different than male candidates,” Brixie said. “It’s much harder to be seen as a legitimate candidate when you’re a woman running in politics.”
They agreed many things benefit them as women in politics.
“There are lots of things out there working against us, but just the fact that we’re women helps us to have an easier time connecting to voters and having voters trust us,” Brixie said. “That’s very important if we’re working in a society where people can’t feel like they can trust their elected officials.”
Kuppa continued, “When women got the right to vote, we saw better policy outcomes on so many fronts. Healthier families, healthier people, better education and a better environment. When women got the right to vote and when women began to get elected, it has changed the way we view things.”
After fielding questions from students and sharing a meal, Kuppa and Brixie stressed the importance of reaching out to those they represent on a personal level.
“Breaking bread is critical, the relationship that you build around sharing a meal is important,” Kuppa said. “Being able to share our stories and hear concerns is important.”
Brixie said, “Michigan State University is in my district. A lot of times I think younger people think that nobody cares what they think, but elections matter. University turnout has sometimes been very low in certain elections.”