Legislator addresses funding

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Congressman Ken Lucas spoke last Friday, Jan. 16, to a crowded room of Northern Kentucky Unversity students, where there was standing room only for some of the observers.

TeamNKU hosted the event featuring Lucas, who represents Kentucky’s Fourth District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Lucas is the only Democrat in the Kentucky delegation.

“I was absolutely excited about it,” said Josh Ruth, TeamNKU legislative coordinator and co-chair.

“It’s pretty powerful when we set up a room expecting maybe a max of 50 or 60 people, and we have over 200 people show up for an event.”

The event was in the form of a question and answer session, where students were able to find out more about Lucas.

There was a mixture of both personal and political questions asked.

A few students inquired about the recent state budget cuts to higher education.

“Most of the states in the union have dramatic financial problems,” Lucas said. “Cuts have to come from somewhere.

“I think it’s a real shame that we have so many people who have taken up the pledge of no new taxes. I think you really limit yourself when you do that.”

Lucas believes raising Kentucky’s tobacco tax would bring in some much-needed money to the state.

“We have one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the United States,” he said.

“Everybody else is taxing tobacco and we aren’t. We could raise a good bit of money there, [and] that money could go to education.”

According to Lucas, one of the most effective actions is to talk to your state legislators and governor and ask them to “generate some more money instead of cutting something that really shouldn’t be cut.”

Lucas also reminded the students that NKU President James Votruba is working very hard for them.

“You have a president who is very smart, very reasonable, and will plead a case down there in the very best way for you,” Lucas said.

Votruba was unable to attend the event as he was in Frankfort discussing the budget cuts with other university presidents.

“I’m sorry education is taking the hit,” Lucas said.

“The best place to invest money is in education. It’s a tool of empowerment.”

A local jailer told Lucas that the average education level of inmates in that prison was between the sixth and seventh grade.

“It’s not that people who don’t have a high school education or college education are bad people,” Lucas said.

“It does point out that they have two strikes against them when they’re out in the world being competitive.

“The greatest thing we can do for society and for the taxpayer is to see that people are upwardly bound and get an opportunity to succeed and have an education,” he said.

“It costs a lot of money to house an inmate. That money would be much better spent if we could give education opportunities to people who might not have them. Money for education is money well spent,” he said.

Lucas will be retiring at the end of the year at the age of 71.

He “naively” signed a term-limit pledge when he entered the U.S. House of Representatives.

Although congressmen have renounced these pledges and have still gone on to be reelected, Lucas has no plans to renounce his pledge.

“I did this, it was a mistake, and I need to honor it,” he said.

Lucas is supporting Nick Clooney in the next election.

“I thought it was quite interesting how [Lucas] described how the term limitation promise may [have been] a bad mistake because of the dynamics of seniority in the house,” said James Binney, a political science professor.

“It’s actually going to be damaging to the Fourth District. Now we’re going to be low-man on the totem pole.”

Lucas also shared some of his favorite memories in his career.

He said he will miss the “hustle and bustle” of his Washington, D.C. life.

“For those of you who might have political aspirations, you’re looking at somebody of very ordinary intelligence, not a great speaker, not 6’2″, and not nice-looking,” Lucas said. “People like us, the ordinary Joes, can go to Congress. In politics, much of it is timing.”

The fact that Lucas got on the Board of Regents in 1968, when the university was formed, as an alternate supported his belief that “timing is everything.”

The Lucas Administrative Center was named after him in honor of his 23 years as a Regent and 13 as Chairman.

“I think Ken Lucas is a great politician,” Binney said. “I think he’s a real nice guy and real honest.”

Binney brought over 70 of his students to the event. He thinks this was a great experience for them.

“I’m sure probably none of them have ever heard a congressman speak,” Binney said, “and now they’re here with him.”

Jarrod Schmidt, senior graphic design major, was one of Binney’s students who attended the event.

“I still had an outside interest to go,” said Schmidt. “It was interesting.”

Based on the success of this event, Ruth says TeamNKU will be working very hard to get a consistent speaker series started.

“Our goal was to start [a speaker series] last semester, and have a different speaker in every month,” Ruth said. “We had a hard time getting the ball rolling last semester.”

Although TeamNKU doesn’t have anything lined up for February yet, the three judge-executives from Grant, Campbell and Boone County are coming in to speak on March 3.

Ruth said they are trying to get the respective county commissioners to come out and speak as well at some point.

“We are trying to get a Northern Kentucky perspective,” Ruth said.

“We [want] a really good non-partisan outlook on everything. Regardless of party affiliation, we’re just trying to get different perspectives.

“What we’re trying to do is hear more on how the students affect the politicians. So many students fail to realize that we are the politicians’ constituency.

“We voted them in office, so when the state starts talking about budget cuts and things of that nature, [they] should be representing us and having our best interests in mind.”

Ruth stressed that students of all types would enjoy any future speaker that is a part of their series.

“You don’t have to be interested in politics, [or] have to be a political science major. All you have to know is that you’re a voter, and you voted these people into office.”

Schmidt agreed with Ruth’s statement, saying Lucas made the event very relatable.

“It was a down-to-earth vantage point with a lot of personal questions and good political issues that everyone could understand,” Schmidt said. “I didn’t have to be a political junkie to understand it.”

“People want to hear that these politicians are regular, everyday people,” said Ruth. “They’ve lived lives and they’ve had fun. These are down-to-earth people.”

Ruth and the rest of TeamNKU are highly anticipating their next installment in this speaker series.

“We hope we get as good as a turnout in the next one as we did this one,” he said.