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  • Sarah Safi and Christopher Alexander

A Conversation with Joe Kennedy III

This issue, the BPR was able to sit down with Representative Joe Kennedy III of the Massachusetts Fourth District. Rep. Kennedy is currently serving in his third term as congressman, and is running for reelection this coming November. He sat down with the BPR to talk about issues relevant to BU students: environmental policy, gun control, and higher education costs. The full interview can be accessed


Environmental Policy

In the last century, humans have played a central role in shaping world climate. A rise in mass production, industrialization, and continued dependence on unsustainable energy has set us on a dangerous course. Preserving the planet--our only home--should be high on the priority lists of every administration across the world; it is certainly a priority for young people across the world, and particularly for BU students. BU hosts a variety of environmentally aware student groups such as the Environmental Student Organization, Global Environmental Brigades, and the Environmental and Energy Law Society. Many members of Congress and the Trump administration place environmental issues on the back burner, or flat out deny human impact on climate change. Thankfully, progressives like Rep. Joe Kennedy III of the Massachusetts Fourth District lead the charge against uninformed environmental policy. Congressman Kennedy emphasizes investment in renewable and sustainable energy as the path forward to preventing global climate change. He supports the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit aimed at rewarding businesses with environmentally conscious business practices. When asked if influential campaign donors like the Koch Brothers—who vehemently oppose the very notion that human activity accelerates climate change—affect politicians’ approach to policy making, Rep. Kennedy responded “If I could wave a magic wand and address two issues in Congress, it would be nonpartisan redistricting and campaign finance reform.” However, efforts to halt climate change do not stop at the federal level. Kennedy emphasized that local municipalities, cities, and states across the United States will adhere to the Paris Climate Accords and global standards for the environment even if the current administration will not. Overall, progressives like Kennedy offer hope for climate change prevention.

Gun Control

Since October of 2017, America has seen 3 of the deadliest mass shootings in our nation’s history. The most recent of those, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, again sparked the gun control debate. This time, though, the call for meaningful change appears to be stronger, highlighted best by the “March for Our Lives” protests nationwide -- which saw nearly 200,000 protesters in Washington D.C alone. Many representatives, Rep. Kennedy included, are calling on Congress to pursue gun control regulations. “The question becomes: what level of danger, what level of risk are we as a society going to tolerate,” Rep. Kennedy explained. As it currently stands, federal law concerning gun control primarily impacts the sales made by licensed gun dealers. Federal law requires, for example, that licensed sellers conduct a background check before completing a transaction. This system, however, creates a loophole, often referred to as the gun-show loophole, wherein unlicensed or private transactions go unaccounted for. These transactions do not require a background check. For this reason, Rep. Kennedy supports major gun control legislation that aims to end the private sale loophole, and also legislation that would ban assault weapons (the last federal prohibition on the possession of assault weapons expired in 2004) and legislation that would tighten our current system of background checks. In essence, Rep. Kennedy sees the strategy of strengthening while also expanding our system of background checks as a way to mitigate the associated risks of gun ownership. Looking at the ways in which recent mass shooters were able to purchase their weapons, highlights the need for these regulations. The shooter at a Texas church this past November legally purchased the rifle used in the massacre despite a domestic violence conviction in 2012. Had that information been processed through the federal database, it could have blocked him from purchasing the weapon. The man who shot 9 people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina should have been barred from purchasing the firearm used used in the shooting. There again, the misdemeanor possession charge which would have prevented him from purchasing the weapon was not obtained during his background check, and so he was able to legally purchase the firearm.

Rising Higher Education Costs

If you were to live in American 50 years ago, a high school diploma would have been enough for you to secure a job, buy a house, and support a family. Those ambitious enough to pursue a bachelor’s degree could easily work through college to pay off ridiculously cheap tuition—in the 1960s, public university tuition cost students a few hundred dollars annually. Unfortunately, that is not the case today. BU students in particular are well aware of the skyrocketing costs to attend university, and university officials who propose to raise tuition while pocketing upward of $2 million in income continue to twist the knife in the wound that is student debt. As Kennedy points out, a college education is in many cases the pathway for making it in America today, but it has become increasingly unaffordable for many people, stifling upward socioeconomic mobility. He addresses the issue in two parts: first, what are the drivers that cause tuition to cost twenty, thirty, forty, or in BU’s case, seventy thousand dollars annually? Second, how can we best inform families of the options available to young people pursuing an undergraduate degree? These questions are central to addressing the issue, though he did not explicitly discuss any solutions to rising costs. Other progressives like Bernie Sanders propose making public university tuition free for American students, an undoubtedly attractive policy that could potentially save students and the United States in general from future economic collapse.

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