Kolbe: Students' votes matter than they think

By Lisa Rich
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Thirty people showed up to Gallagher Theater to see U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., speak about the importance of student involvement in politics, yesterday.

Despite the small crowd, Kolbe smiled and said, "I like talking to small groups on an informal basis."

Kolbe emphasized the importance of students registering to vote, and actually going to the polls on election day.

Voters between 18 and 24 have the lowest voter turnout rate, a historic trend that is in need of improvement, Kolbe said.

Although students are focused on other matters such as academics, relationships and financial responsibilities, Kolbe said he is enthusiastic about the amount of young people that are registering to vote this year.

Kolbe said he hopes students forget the myth that "your vote doesn't matter," because it matters more than students may think.

"Everything you do is affected in some way by politics," Kolbe said. "The government does affect your lives in a lot of different ways."

Elected political officials often play a major role in decisions regarding student loans and state availability for financial aid, Kolbe said.

In addition to the myth that one vote can't make a difference, Kolbe said political propaganda in media could discourage potential student voters from finding an accurate news source for political issues.

Kolbe said instead of depending on the nightly news for information, students should read through a variety of newspapers such as the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times or the New York Times, that provide in-depth information on national and international news.

"Our fundamental responsibility is to cast a vote ... it's part of our responsibility as American citizens," Kolbe said. "You can make a difference."

Kolbe said unlike the majority of young adults, he was "bit by the political bug" at a young age. Kolbe said when he turned 18 he was excited to vote, which he realized is not the case with most people.

Kolbe was the sixth speaker of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona civic engagement series, an umbrella term for ASUA efforts to increase voter registration, political education and voting, said Alistair Chapman, ASUA president.

Fernando Ascencio, director of ASUA Speakers Board, said Kolbe was asked to speak in part of the civic engagement series because of his captivating and informative approach toward student related issues.

Ascencio said the speech drew the smallest crowd of any other speaker in the series, which was most likely the result of the event occurring so soon after the McCain-Starky debate.

Chapman said although the event had low attendance, he thought it provided a more intimate setting for those who came.

Chapman said advertising for Kolbe was not as extensive as it was for other speakers in the civic engagement series, such as filmmaker Michael Moore or the debate featuring Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Democrat Stuart Starky.

"We didn't market it as aggressively as we have for other speakers," Chapman said. "We thought the Kolbe event could ride on the others, but maybe it didn't ... we can learn from that."

Ascencio said although it is difficult to advertise for multiple events occurring within a small time frame, he wanted to offer as many politically diverse speakers as possible before the election.

"There's only so much time before the November election," Ascencio said. "We wanted to grab as many students with different political backgrounds, and engage them in the political process."

Brittany Petersen, undeclared freshman, said she enjoyed Kolbe's speech because it was interesting and informative. Already having an interest in politics, Petersen said she was pleased that Kolbe talked about the importance of students registering to vote and voting on election day.

"If you're not voting in such an important election, you'll be less inclined to vote in the future," Petersen said.

A question and answer series ended the event, where audience members asked Kolbe about his opinion on Proposition 200 and funding for AIDS research and prevention.

"We're not by any means disappointed, but we do wish more people could have heard him speak," Chapman said.