St. Thomas More students get a bipartisan congressional visit

St. Thomas More students get a bipartisan congressional visit

CHAMPAIGN — The students at the High School of St. Thomas More had done their homework.

By the time U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, arrived Wednesday morning with Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., in tow for a talk on bipartisanship, students had prepared questions that showed they were, at least in general, paying attention.

Davis and Panetta had come to tout each other's bipartisan efforts in Congress, pointing to their shared work on the Congressional Agricultural Research Caucus despite their rival affiliations.

"It could be real easy for me not to be bipartisan," Panetta said. "It's a binary system and set up like that. But I made efforts with people like Rodney to get things done."

But the students had other questions — such as what it was like for Davis to see "Unseat Rodney Davis" bumper stickers in abundance.

"You'll always see opponents make those efforts," he said. "The good news is, we think we have a lot of supporters and that we'll get re-elected."

Others wanted to know what the two representatives thought about Americans who remained skeptical of politicians. Both suggested that social media and TV news was to blame for creating a sense of divide in the country and didn't accurately capture bipartisan efforts.

"You might not hear about it, but there are men and women out there who will work together," Panetta said. "The one time I told people to turn on the TV was John McCain's funeral, because we could see there are people who would actually stand up and do the right thing. That's what gives me hope."

Some students wanted tangible examples of bipartisanship.

Panetta pointed to the caucus he'd formed that Davis also joined, noting that despite being from two different states with two different agricultural interests, the pair of congressmen had shared interests, and the caucus helped further those. Davis pointed to the 2017 shooting of a Louisiana congressman during a baseball practice.

"The moment of bipartisanship that means the most to me was after the congressional baseball shooting: Jimmy was up to bat at the Democratic practise and then I was up to bat at the Republican practice when a gunman came and tried to kill my friends," he said. "... the bipartisan group of members that came and said they tried calling and texting — it really sent a message to me that reinforced what Jimmy, and I are doing."

Davis and Panetta had their own question, too. For instance, how many STM students were considering following in their footsteps and running for office?

Only one, a girl who sat clutching a binder in the back, raised her hand.

"If someone asked me that in high school, I wouldn't have raised my hand either," Davis said. "Sometimes, your goals, as you grow older — you may change what your priorities are. But stay engaged and vote, vote, vote."

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