This year, I sought to fix that. This had to be a priority since I was teaching Participation in Democracy, the half-credit civics course required for students to graduate high school.
At the beginning of the school year, I contacted the offices of Ewa Beach’s three legislators to come speak to some of their constituents. Campbell High School sits in Rep. Bob McDermott’s House District 40, but many students at Campbell live in the new developments that lie in House District 41, where Rep. Matt LoPresti resides. Senate District 19, represented by Sen. Will Espero, covers most of Ewa Beach.
Only one of the three came.
After the publication of my original article, LoPresti reached out to me. His was the first comment on the article, and he also sent a letter offering his time. His office immediately responded to my request to visit my classroom.
LoPresti came on a Monday morning and spoke at length about his decision to run for office after being continually unhappy with his legislators. He brought his story of being “pushed” into running instead of seeking office.
He detailed what his plans are for Campbell, including developing an athletic facility plan to incorporate a girls’ locker room and bathrooms out by the new football field.
The majority of the time was then spent fielding a barrage of questions from students about their concerns with the school and neighborhood.
Students asked about the progress on building a new high school in the Hoopili area, solutions to homelessness and the Honolulu rail project.
LoPresti also helped them with a group activism project where students are working to bring change to the school. He listened to each group’s pitch and provided feedback, challenging their motivations and methods constructively.
With the few minutes left in class, LoPresti gave each student one of his business cards and provided a demonstration in philosophical dialogue, his “real job.”
When I debriefed with my students the next day, many of them expressed surprise in how upfront and genuine LoPresti was.
Many of them held a preconceived notion of how a politician would act, and LoPresti broke it. He was honest and straightforward. Some students did not appreciate his flashes of curtness, especially the few times he interrupted me when I was asking him questions. But the overall response was positive and rewarding for them.
But I knew meeting just one legislator would not give them the full experience of speaking to politicians.
Once I had confirmed LoPresti’s visit, I reached out again to the offices of Espero and McDermott.
When I still had not heard anything, I phoned their offices; once leaving a voicemail and once talking to their office assistants.
I received a tentative speaking date from Espero, but it was cancelled due to the calling of a special meeting to confirm judges. His office attempted to reschedule, but the date selected was during the school’s fall break.
As of this writing, I have still heard nothing from McDermott.
My students this year are juniors, which means few of them will be eligible to vote in the next election, when both McDermott and Espero will likely be on the ballot again. But, as public school students, they represent an important constituency for local lawmakers.
A running theme through LoPresti’s visit was how difficult it as a lawmaker to set priorities, since almost everything the Legislature tackles is supposed to be important. He demonstrated how important he considers Campbell High School, a school not even technically in his district.
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