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Young lawmakers connect to students

Story by Dana Haynes, photos by James Hill.

Oregon House members

Rep. Brian Clem speaks to PCC students - Rep. Sara Gelser discusses her background during introductions.

A group of Oregon House members – all age 35 and younger – took a road show of progressive politics to Oregon’s college campuses this month, including Portland Community College’s Sylvania Campus, April 22.

Through the town hall tour, the lawmakers are seeking input from students on issues of critical importance to them and the future of Oregon.

The legislators all are Democrats and all serve in the Oregon House. They are Reps. Ben Cannon of Portland, Brian Clem of Salem, Chris Edwards of Eugene, Sara Gelser of Corvallis and Tobias Read of Beaverton.

They started the informal group – it’s not officially a House caucus – called the “5 Under 35” when all were elected two years ago with the idea of giving new voice to young people in Oregon.

“We serve in the Legislature to build a better Oregon for the long run, and in order to do that we want to hear directly from the future of Oregon,” Read said.

The tour of colleges kicked off on April 8 at the University of Oregon. The group visited Oregon State University on April 15, Portland Community College’s Sylvania Campus on April 22 and Willamette University in Salem this week, on April 29.

“The issues facing Oregon today will be the same issues facing young Oregonians 20 years from now. The decisions we make about education funding, climate change, protecting salmon and ensuring the economic vitality of our state must take into account the needs and the ideas of young people,” Gelser said.

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“These will not be events where we preach at students about the needs of Oregon,” Edwards said. “We want to hear from these students about their vision of Oregon’s future – what makes them successful in college, what best prepares them for the future, what needs do they see in our state that we must address today so they will enjoy the promise of opportunity tomorrow.”

Clem agreed. “As a former student activist and student body president, I know some of the greatest improvements in our society have originated on campuses. I can’t wait to hear what students are working on these days.”

The Oregon Student Association assisted in the planning of the events. “As we gear up for another election, events like this one show just how important it is for students to vote,” said OSA Board Chairwoman Emily McLain. “Last election we worked to turn students out at the polls, and now our young legislators are here to listen to our stories about how Oregonians are struggling to get a college degree. We greatly appreciate their willingness to hear from us what issues are important to today’s students.”

“We’re not a rock band. But we can promise you a good show. We hope students take advantage of this opportunity to come help us shape the future of Oregon,” Cannon said.

The event at Willamette University is set for 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 29, in the Montag Center on the campus in downtown Salem.

To learn more about the 5 Under 35 tour, contact Christy Splitt, (503) 236-3351.

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