Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III joined Michigan Reps. Debbie Dingell and Dan Kildee, congressional candidate Gretchen Driskell and University of Michigan Board of Regents candidate Paul Brown for an event Wednesday co-hosted by the University’s chapter of College Democrats. The special guests discussed important issues for young voters, voter turnout in the midterm elections and the direction of the Democratic party.

College Democrats Chair Kellie Lounds, a Public Policy senior, began organizing the event a few weeks ago when she heard Kennedy would be in Michigan doing events on the west side of the state. She contacted Stabenow’s team, and the event began to gain momentum.

“Obviously Congressman Joe Kennedy is a super exciting person to have  not someone we see around a lot,” Lounds said. “We’re always excited to see Debbie Stabenow and Debbie Dingell, but when you get someone from out of state it can be a real motivator for people to come out that don’t normally because it’s so unique.”

Stabenow, who is up for reelection in November, opened the event by stressing the importance of voting in the midterm election. Among other prominent issues this year, she highlighted clean water, universal health care, net neutrality, college debt alleviation and Great Lake protections.

“You understand what’s at stake,” Stabenow said. “We are at a point in time where literally everything we care about is on the ballot.”

She also acknowledged the historically lackluster turnout rates across the state and stressed this election needs to be a turning point for Michigan.

“Michigan traditionally, unfortunately, has the distinction of being the state with the lowest turnout in non-presidential years,” Stabenow said. “Think about that. This year, we have to change that.”

In both the 2014 and 2010 midterm elections, however, voter turnout in Michigan was above the national averages of 37.8 and 36.3 percent, respectively. Voter turnout rates for the 2018 primary rose from 2014 levels, however, indicating turnout may increase come November.

Kennedy began his segment by asking the audience members to shout out what issues they cared about the most. He collected a long list of issues –– climate change, access and affordability of higher education, a woman’s right to choose, gun control, universal health care, immigration, racial inequality –– and had audience members raise hands to vote their personal top three issues.

He then shared some statistics about today’s economy and the financial hurdles millennials face. According to Kennedy, millennials have to work 4,500 hours of a minimum wage job to afford a college degree, whereas baby boomers only had to work 300 hours.

Additionally, Kennedy said, 20 percent of the economy is now essentially a contract or gig economy, so the protections that came with secure employment are gone. He also shared about half of millennials have zero savings. Kennedy used these facts as a motivator for young voters to be engaged and decide on policies that will benefit their futures and ease financial anxieties.

“I promise you, you will decide this election, period,” Kennedy said. “You’ll decide it because you vote, or you’ll decide it because you don’t … You guys have a chance to actually send a message to every single politician and aspiring politician about the direction of the nation that we see today.”

Kildee, Dingell, Driskell and Brown also talked about the importance of youth voter engagement in the midterms. Kildee discussed Flint, Michigan, which lies in his congressional district, as an example of failed government leadership.

“What happened in Flint was not a storm, it wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t some unforeseen, unpreventable disaster,” Kildee said. “It was the predictable result of a philosophy of government that says those kids (from Flint) come last, and the people at the top – the wealthy, the powerful – are the folks who are going to get the resources that could have guaranteed clean water for these kids.”

Dingell, along with several of the other speakers, brought attention to the Big Ten Voting Challenge, a competition among the 14 Big Ten universities to get the highest student turnout rate on campus for the midterm elections.

LSA sophomore Marni Balamut attended the event in preparation for voting in the midterm election.

“Obviously with the midterms it’s so important to be voting and especially as young people, the policies of this presidency affects us so much,” Balamut said. “To be able to hear Congressmen and people really representing us talk to us as real people and telling us important issues and stuff from their experience is important.”

After the event, Lounds said she was happy with the student turnout, as well as the quality of speakers she was able to secure.

“We have such a force of Democratic power in the southeast side of the state,” Lounds said. “It’s awesome to get them all together and see what we can really do together.”

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