Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., attended a roundtable discussion with University of Michigan students in the School of Public Policy Monday, discussing the issues of “big-money” politics, gerrymandering and the hyperpolarized partisanship that he says has developed in Congress.

Sarbanes started by explaining a unique solution to eliminate big donors from controlling a politician’s campaign funding. He proposed small-donor matching for campaign funding, with an accompanied federal tax credit.

Sarbanes claimed this would enable voters to “reclaim their democracy.”

“The average citizen feels like their voice is not being heard,” Sarbanes said, “Young people have an important role to play in figuring out new approaches to our politics that can be more empowering.”

Public Policy professor Richard Hall moderated the discussion. He said he appreciated Sarbanes’s position on money and campaigning.

 “(Sarbanes) is the leader in the house on campaign finance reform … (which) hasn’t gained much traction in a very long time,” he said, explaining the importance of smaller donations.

When discussing gerrymandering, Sarbanes said he supports the Redistricting Reform Act of 2017, which would authorize nonpartisan groups to redraw the districts’ lines to eliminate politicized districts.

This is a significant conversation in Maryland, especially in Sarbanes’s district, where large cities and communities are greatly divided among districts, he explained.

He said computers now dictate district lines, where they construct districts with “precincts not communities,” as top priority. Gerrymandering in Michigan is also largely debated.

Public Policy junior Jeryne Fish, whose home is in Sarbanes’s district, said she’s glad Sarbanes addressed topics important to her, such as the cynicism between politician and constituent.

“I think it is rare that everyday citizens, let alone one’s our age, can sit down and talk to him to ask these questions,” she said. “(Sarbanes) talking to our generation is a step in the right direction because all too many times politicians say that they don’t have the time.”  

Sarbanes believes these conversations are necessary to enact changes within politics.

“The millennial cohort is the most powerful voting block if it would vote,” he said. “There’s incredible untapped power that resides within young people as voters, volunteers and advocates.”

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