Coming together to exchange ideas on topics ranging from college affordability to Madison’s digital divide, University of Wisconsin students spoke with local lawmakers about the political field and current events at the first annual Bipartisan Issues Group Conference.
With around 15 people in attendance Saturday, students had the opportunity to discuss current issues with speakers including Madison Mayor Paul Soglin; Minority Senate Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee; and Regional Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Falk, as well as political science professor Donald Downs and Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8.
Lawmakers and students discussed topics such as the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the continued student debt crisis, and America’s use of drones, but students also were given insights on the processes of decision-making and leadership in today’s political climate, known for partisanship and gridlock.
Speaking on the subject of today’s disparities in the political realm, president and co-founder of the Millennial Action Project Steven Olikara, explained its goals. The initiative seeks to bring together millennials currently in or progressing toward political careers with the intent of envisioning a better democracy, where conversation and compromise become the norm again, he said.
He said the Millennial Action Project launched a congressional bipartisan “future caucus” to allow young congress members to come together to discuss the future of the political realm while corroding partisan tensions.
“We need the next generation of leaders doing exactly what you are doing here today,” Olikara said. “Chances are, all of you here are thinking about re-envisioning the future of our democracy.”
Resnick outlined how he decided to use politics to address an issue he wants to see solutions for. Resnick said he was concerned that access to the Internet in Madison was too determined by income level and wanted to make sure all Madison children had access. Resnick has been seeking solutions to expand connectivity among lower income individuals in Madison since 2011.
Larson, the day’s last speaker, spoke about higher education and its political implications in the Wisconsin Legislature. A topic that directly affects all UW students, Larson began with a discussion on Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed tuition freeze extension, saying it is a short term solution to a long term problem.
Larson spoke on the broader picture of the nationwide student debt crisis, identifying the 2003 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which guarantees banks their money back on student loan debts, as a central contributor to the high rates of student debt.
“Making college affordable is a way to bring talent into Wisconsin,” Larson said. “Getting people to come here for the education but then also to stay after graduation is crucial for the success of our state.”
Larson also spoke about his concerns regarding the turnover rate of professors within the UW System, which is currently between 5 and 10 percent annually. He said because other universities are offering better salaries and benefits, valuable professors are being lost at extraordinarily high rates, calling for increased funding for higher education across the state.
The Bipartisan Issues Group’s has said it hopes to continue the conference in the future.