DURANT, Okla. – Hello again, everybody! Since becoming your senator seven years ago, one of my favorite responsibilities is an event called “America’s Legislators Back to School.”
It is a program sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures and it always occurs in September, around the time students study the U.S. Constitution. The purpose of the program is to remind students they already have a role in representative democracy.
There are a number of reasons I look forward to the school visits every year. Most importantly is that today’s young people need to know that their opportunity to lead will arrive more quickly than any generation in Oklahoma’s history.
Term limits mean Oklahoma state legislators can serve a total of only 12 years. I am allowed to run for the Senate only one more time, and I will seek my final term in next year’s election.
No matter what, there will be a new senator for this district in 2014. I tell the students that nothing would please me more than if when my time in the Senate is complete, one of them is to whom I pass this torch.
I learn as much or more from the students as they learn from me. Because representative democracy, our system of government, is not a “spectator sport” – because they need to get in the game to exercise the power that is their birthright – I reserve most of the time with them for questions.
When it comes time for questions, the students are not limited solely to state issues. Often the questions branch out to subjects considered at every level of government. They ask about war and peace, crime and punishment, where I stand and why on just about every issue we consider in the Legislature.
The questions are windows into the concerns students have, and help me as I make decisions on issues that affect their lives. During the visits, I always remind the students that the way they exercise their inherent political power is for them to register to vote when they reach the age of 18.
That is just a first step; we all have to exercise that power by casting our votes at every election and speaking out on issues of concern. That is a good message for all Oklahomans, especially this year as so many Americans participate in the process, expressing concerns at town hall meetings about the course of our nation.
Respectful discourse is an American tradition. The visits I have with students are textbook examples of the town hall meetings where our nation was born, and where it is renewed time and again.
Like the dozens of town halls and legislative luncheons/breakfasts in which I have participated, the “Back to School” visits help strengthen representative democracy – the very system we celebrate each September when we mark the anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.
Thanks again for reading “The Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.