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JIM. LEHRER: Now how Campaign ’96 is playing out on some college campuses. Charlayne Hunter-Gault has that.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Four years ago, younger voters went to the polls in record numbers. It was the largest turnout since 1972, when 18-year-olds first got the right to vote. This year, the figure could be even higher. According to League of Women Voters, to so-called Motor Voter Act has added 12 million new voters nationally to the rolls. 40 percent of them are estimated to be under 30 years of age. We look at the youth vote and the presidential election now from the perspective of four college students, two student editors, Paula Sonnenberg, a senior at Lubbock Christian University in Texas, and Patrick Kerkstra, a junior at UCLA, and two political activists, Patrick Ellis, a senior at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he’s working for the Clinton-Gore campaign, and Jason Brewer, a junior at Michigan State University and state chair of College Republicans. Thank you all for joining us. Starting with you Jason Ellis [Brewer], who are you going to vote for in this election?
JASON BREWER, Michigan State University: I’m voting for Bob Dole.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Why?
JASON BREWER: Umm, I believe they’re right for America. I believe that their ideas of lower taxes and less government are right for my generation. Um, and I think that–I think that my generation right now is very cynical, very apathetic about voting, and the reason for that, in my opinion, is because you look at someone like Bill Clinton that promised the world in ’92, and dropped the ball for three years until it was time to be reelected, and then he started to move back to the middle again, and I think that, that young people are sick and tired of hearing one thing, hearing a promise, and then seeing it broken.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Patrick Ellis, you probably see it a different way as a Clinton supporter.
PATRICK ELLIS, Southern University: Yes. I’m concerned about politicians and the promises they make. But I’ve been very, very happy with the things that President Clinton is doing, and I think the deficit is very important to young people. Interest rates have gone down. Unemployment is down. As an African-American, I’m supportive of his stances on affirmative action. I think it’s important for civil rights. Many things like that I think across the country are what Americans, young Americans, all Americans appreciate about this President.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Paula Sonnenberg, how about you? You’re an independent. You voted for George Bush in ’92.
PAULA SONNENBERG, Lubbock Christian University: I’ll be voting for Dole in this election. I believe it is time that we lose the do as I say and not as I do mentality. It’s hard for me to believe a President who pushes for drug reform and pushes for education when, you know, he, himself, has proven he did just the opposite. I don’t believe that–
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What do you mean?
PAULA SONNENBERG: Well, I believe that, for instance, if your father is drinking a beer and telling you not to drink, then it’s a little bit hard for you to find that viable. In the same way I don’t think I could ever listen to Bill Clinton give a speech about why somebody should not do drugs, given his track record.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Patrick.
PATRICK KERKSTRA, UCLA: Unenthusiastic vote for Bill Clinton.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Unenthusiastic?
PATRICK KERKSTRA: Yeah.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Why?
PATRICK KERKSTRA: Uh, well, I think that there’s certainly validity to what the others have said about the broken promises. But it seems to me that, generally speaking, the United States is on essentially the right track, and I don’t see any great reason to change it. Um, of the two I’d also say that Bill Clinton is probably the larger champion of education and educational issues.
JASON BREWER: Bob Dole is the one that’s coming forward with education reform, talking about vouchers, allowing people to go from inner city poor schools, giving them a voucher saying, you make the choice where you go to school, it’s your money.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What about that, Patrick?
PATRICK KERKSTRA: Well, I’d say that neither candidate really has made any real dedication to performing education.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you heard what he just said.
PATRICK KERKSTRA: Right. And I would disagree that that is indicative of any real reform, certainly of any good reform. I oppose the school voucher system.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Why?
PATRICK KERKSTRA: I think that it’s likely to take away more from the public schools than they have now. And that’s certainly not a lot.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: You’re shaking your head.
PAULA SONNENBERG: School should be–I feel like if schools are run like a business, they’re going to be a lot more productive, a lot more effective. They have to be responsible for the quality of the product they turn out. I am in a few months going to be a high school teacher, and I believe that I should be held accountable for the kind of education I provide for my students. And a business–if we use vouchers for school–you’re paying the money anyway. This is just giving you the option of what to buy with your own money, and it is, as Jason stated, giving people who might have a less chance of, less of a chance to seek education, they can pursue their own academic goals and not have it be based on some guy who drew up the city map.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Patrick, where do you come down on educational reform and who’s really doing it?
PATRICK ELLIS: To respond to what she just said, I think when you talk about running–running public schools like a business, I think that cuts deep into the problems I have with the Republican ideology. Businesses are made to turn a profit, and I think schoolteachers are already held accountable, accountable for the product that they put out. I’m a product of the public school system, and I think I’ve done quite well. And I look at many people around me who are products, most people in this country are, and I think that we are doing quite well, sure. There are things we can do to improve on every level, public schools, private schools, universities. It doesn’t really matter. Education reform, I think Bill Clinton Goals 2000 has a tremendous job in providing additional funds to, to public schools across the country.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Jason, he says Clinton has done all right on education.
JASON BREWER: It’s kind of hard to critique him on, on education reforms, since he’s really not proposed anything. And that’s more my problem. If he can acknowledge that the system’s broken, why isn’t he advocating any change? Why has he not pursued any change during these, you know, these last four years? And I think that, you know, that Bob Dole and Jack Kemp have, have ideas, and that’s, that’s the point that I’m trying to make, is that they had ideas to move the system forward. Clinton has had four years and hasn’t really done anything.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Patrick, let me just ask you on the other point that Paula raised, she said that part of the reason she’s supporting Bob Dole is that Bill Clinton preaches a do as I say, not do as I do philosophy, and you heard what she had to say about that. What’s your–how do you come out on that?
PATRICK ELLIS: I don’t agree with her at all. I think that as an American, as a human being, nobody is perfect, and if any Bob Dole supporter can say Bob Dole is perfect, I think that they’re limiting themselves in their thoughts. I think there’s a lot of questions brought about character by the Republicans, and the issue is not sticking because Americans realize that the President is human as well and that everyone has limitations as a human being. It’s about the things that he has done to improve this country that we’re voting about. We’re not voting for the best person. We’re voting for the person who can best suit America.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Not sticking?
PAULA SONNENBERG: It is sticking. Yes, it is. My problem with Bill Clinton and his character, I totally agree with you, Bill Clinton is a better politician, he is, and I totally agree that he has, you know, that he has some character issues and that all Presidents, all human beings are human, as you say, however, if Bill Clinton had come clean and said, guess what, kids, teenagers of America, I did drugs, it was wrong, if I had the chance to do it again, I’d probably still do drugs because that’s what all my friends and that’s what my peers were doing, maybe then I would listen to the man give a speech, but when he spends the majority of his time, when drugs are concerned, joking, saying, I didn’t inhale, you know, it doesn’t count, it counts, and it’s not funny anymore.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Not funny anymore?
PATRICK ELLIS: I don’t think he is spending the majority of his time–I think you’ve seen the President make passionate remarks how he feels about drugs because of the way drugs affected his family, and–he does not like drugs. I don’t think anybody in America likes drugs. And you can’t hold the President accountable for everything that’s wrong with America.
PAULA SONNENBERG: But for what he did you can.
PATRICK ELLIS: But when it comes to drugs, I think it’s a family issue, and I think the things that he’s done to help families will help the drug problem. And drug use is down since the 80’s when we had Republican–
JASON BREWER: Not with teenagers.
PATRICK ELLIS: No, not with teenagers, but it is down.
JASON BREWER: I just want to–if Clinton is against drugs, why did he appoint a surgeon general, Joycelyn Elders, whom we all remember, who advocated legalizing drugs?
PATRICK ELLIS: She didn’t advocate it. She spoke of it in a speech. She talked about it–
JASON BREWER: She talked about it more than once. I mean, why should any surgeon general be advocating legalization of drugs?
PATRICK ELLIS: I don’t think she ever advocated the legalization of drugs. Did she ever say we should legalize drugs? No, she did not.
JASON BREWER: My grandma has a saying, show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you who you are. And if those are the kinds of friends that Bill Clinton has, I can tell you my grandma ain’t votin’ for Bill Clinton.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is this issue cutting with other young people, do you think, in this way, Patrick?
PATRICK KERKSTRA: No, I would say that it’s the last on their thoughts. When Bob Dole in the first presidential debate said that he was going to address the youth, you know, his last remarks, you know, I and the other people I was watching the debate were looking forward to, were anticipating this, and then he proceeded to, you know, chide youngsters for using drugs. And, uh, I personally think that there’s much more substantive issues that affect our education that both the candidates should be dealing with.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Both candidates have tried to talk to young people. How successful do you think they have been in raising the issues? You brought up drugs and education. How successful have they been do you think?
PATRICK ELLIS: I think Bill Clinton has been very successful because I think people are looking for substance when they hear these candidates talk, and I think this is the candidate that has outlined his balanced budget. It’s paid for. It’s CBO-certified. Bob Dole has only talked about a 15 percent tax cut, hasn’t told us in what way he will pay for it.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What about that, Jason?
JASON BREWER: First of all, every time in this century tax rates have gone down, revenue has not gone down, it’s actually gone up because the economy grows. When Bill Clinton took office, the economy was growing at almost 5 percent. It’s now growing at a completely anemic 2.5 percent rate. Taxes–Americans are being taxed at the highest level they have ever been taxed in history. Taxes need to come down. It’s their money. It’s not Bill Clinton’s money. It’s not the government’s money.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Quickly.
JASON BREWER: It’s our money.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Over here.
PATRICK KERKSTRA: Well, at this point, most college students and most students aren’t concerned about taxes either. Most of them aren’t being taxed. Only have part-time jobs.
JASON BREWER: I don’t know about you. I’m being taxed, and I’m not real happy about it.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Has this campaign generated enough enthusiasm among young people like yourselves to be sure but beyond yourselves, do you think, to have a big turnout this coming, um, next week?
PATRICK KERKSTRA: I don’t think we’ll see a large turnout, no. The issues in California that are going to drive young voters to the poll is not the presidential election.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: It’s–
PATRICK KERKSTRA: Proposition 209, affirmative action.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Right. What about–
PAULA SONNENBERG: I think it’s not so much enthusiasm. I don’t think there’ll be a lot of enthusiasm around the presidential elections, but I think people are starting to realize that perhaps, perhaps something that they say can count, and I think, if anything, it’s a drive to better their world and to better their community that’ll take them to the polls and not necessarily enthusiasm for a person.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Patrick.
PATRICK ELLIS: From my perspective–I’m working in Tennessee right now in the Clinton-Gore campaign there–and there’s a 26-year-old congressional candidate named Hal Ford, Jr., and I think he has a lot of young people excited about politics in general and eliminating a lot of the apathy there in Memphis, Tennessee.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So it’s the congressional more than the presidential that’s got the young people excited?
PATRICK ELLIS: I think he has the understanding that politics will play an important force in their lives now. And he as a young person can affect and they can too by casting their vote.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Jason.
JASON BREWER: I think people–I think the turnout will be high. I don’t know what it’ll be compared to ’92. I hope that young people go to the polls. I hope they’re looking for someone that’s going to tell ’em the truth, someone that’s going to be honest with them. I hope that that drives them to the polls. You know, it’s time to vote for someone who’s just going to not exploit me and tell me inhale again just to make me feel cool but let’s–let’s hear from someone who’s just going to tell me the honest truth.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, thank you all for joining us.