In an interview conducted on Feb. 17, I spoke to Representative Ben Chandler (D-Ky) and Senator Nick Smith (R-Mich), who were attending an event hosted by the Denison political science department. At the time of the interview, Jeb Bush was still a candidate for the US Presidency. An abridged transcript of the interview is below.
Question: How did you get into politics?
Nick: When I came out of the air force and went back to the farm, my father said “it’s a Smith tradition to spend two years in public service.” I went on the township board and one thing led to another.
Ben: It was a family thing to be interested in public service, I had a family background in politics. I went to lawschool. Most people who are in law school are hopefully interested in laws and how laws are made. Politics was an area where you can make the very most of an effect on a society and fellow human beings, hopefully in a positive way.
Question: From your experience, what would you like college people to know about politics?
Nick: People have to start thinking for themselves. So many people at Denison do, the amount of Economic grads, poly sci careers, the amount of people that go into law that tends to be more associated with government tends to be important.
Ben: I want college students to understand how important it is. It’s where the decisions are made. To the extent that they want a country that follows their general beliefs and views. That’s where the decisions in society are made. If you’re not part of politics, you are not a part of making the decisions.
Question: What are your thoughts on the upcoming elections?
Ben: This is going to be one of the most momentous elections of our lifetimes. And the death of Judge Scalia has put a point on that. The division of our society right now, which breaks right down the middle, it’s in a 50/50 situation in terms of ideology right now, the Supreme Court has been a 5 to 4 Supreme Court. Whoever replaces this justice, I predict, is going to be the single most important issue in this presidential race. It could change the direction of the country in so many ways. One issue that comes to my mind immediately is the Citizens United case. That gets to the root of so many things. To allow the oligarchs, the richest handful of people, to control the elections is inconsistent to the democratic process.
Nick: It’s an exciting election. It’s a new time. Who would have believed that Trump and Bernie Sanders could be so strong with the public’s frustration of what’s been happening in the last 20 years, the trouble of good jobs and not being able to have the American dream. They are saying what people want to hear, but also in a way that reflects the frustration of the American people. On the money, Trump is funding his campaign, so the court decision wouldn’t have made any difference. All of Sander’s millions are coming from $30 donations.
Question: With the way the Senate is advising against President Obama without appointing a new justice, do you think an eight person Supreme Court will be detrimental to the political process?
Nick: I think it’s good for the American people to understand how much the Supreme Court decisions are changing some of the laws. Scalia was the strongest conservative voice. Obama has had two nominations in his term so far and I am convinced the Republicans aren’t going to change the total balance of the court in 5 to 4 for the Democrats.
Ben: I think the Senate is wrongheaded in their view and I think they are acting in an unconstitutional way. The Constitution clearly says the president has the right and responsibility to nominate a Supreme Court Justice. The Senate then has a responsibility to advise and consider. To say that he ought not nominate somebody is I think against what the Constitution calls for. They have the right to reject that nominee, not based on partisanship, but the job that they can do on the high court.
Nick: The Senate who was elected to be a majority Republican are going to perform their constitutional duty of considering, and in this case it’s already clear they are going to deny and wait until the next President, Republican or Democrat makes their decision.
Ben: Which I think is not their duty. I think their duty is to consider the nominee, and they’ve already prejudge the nominee, and I think that’s a violation of the constitution.
Nick: I hate to hear you say we’re not for the Constitution.