By Mitra Taj
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, August 26, 2004
PHOENIX - One of the country's youngest congressmen was in Phoenix yesterday encouraging young people to get out and vote.
Thirty-four-year-old U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, D-Tenn., said both his party and young people are failing to fulfill their roles in the political process.
"Our party needs to do more to reach out to younger voters," Ford said. "But it's a two-way street."
Ford, who was in Arizona campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and Democratic congressional candidate Paul Babbitt, spoke with student journalists in Phoenix yesterday about the importance of young voters in the upcoming election.
He said Democrats are doing a good job of addressing issues that matter to young people, but he said the party needs to do more to get the attention of younger people between the ages of 18 and 24.
He said one of the ways the Democratic Party is becoming more active in interesting young people in politics is by reaching out with registration drives and political debates on college campuses across the country.
But political parties aren't the only ones who need to become more involved, Ford said.
"Politics is not going to come to you and grab you," he said. "You've got to reach out as well."
Ford said if young people can take the time to keep up with pop culture, they should also be able to follow politics.
"As young people we've got to listen, we've got to be engaged," he said. "We're engaged when it comes to social functions such as football games, but we have to be equally engaged when it comes to politics."
This election season, Ford said, there are too many important issues at stake to let George Bush hold office for another four years.
Ford said a number of issues, from tuitition hikes to national security, will have lasting impacts on the future and should interest young people.
"Young voters will have to live with the consequences of our policies here at home and policies abroad longer ... than our parents and grandparents," he said.
Ford said Democrats will stop tuition increases at colleges across the country by getting states the financial support they need from the federal government. He said the $390 billion deficit the federal government has created means smaller state budgets and, because states can't borrow money, that turns into budget cuts for universities.
"If students like that, they should go vote for George Bush," Ford said. "I think there's a direct correlation between John Kerry being elected and states being relieved of having to increase fees and tuition."
Ford said getting young politicians elected into office could do a lot to change how interested in politics young people are.
"That's the fundamental change we need," he said.
At 26, Ford became the youngest congressman in the country when he won the 9th congressional district in Tennessee in 1996. He's now serving his fourth term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Ford said he's confident the 5-7 percent lead Bush has over Kerry in Arizona will disappear and that young people will figure in "hugely."
"The only way you impact what happens in government is by voting," he said.