Dear Congressman: Love the Beard, But Not the System

Students Meeting Amash Skeptical of Political Scene

Everyone complains about politics — even seniors in high school.

Shepherd Trickle, a student in Thornapple Kellogg’s government class taught by Jerry Robinson, is one of them. “There could be better people, and they could be doing things better,” he said before listening to U.S. Rep. Justin Amash speak to his class.

Another student disappointed with today’s political scene is Michael Meyer. “I think it’s broken and it needs fixed,” he said.

Not exactly a welcoming attitude for a politician who came to their school to speak, but Amash agreed with them. “The government is worse than you think it is,” said Amash (R-3rd District).

An Arab-American who grew up in Kentwood, and a graduate of University of Michigan law school, he is passionate about politics.

He’s never missed a vote in Congress or the Michigan Legislature, and frequently holds town hall meetings. His parents immigrated to the U.S., and he’s never forgotten the many times his father told him how great the U.S. was.

“I always felt I wanted to live the American Dream,” he said.

Amash chairs the House Liberty Caucus and is on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Civil liberty issues are “first and foremost” to him, and he’s adamant about following the Constitution. “If something’s not part of it, I can’t vote for it,” he said.

Students got a chance to ask Amash questions after he gave a brief talk. They included:

  1. What does he think of Donald Trump’s campaign?
  2. Does he like his job?
  3. Would he ever consider a presidential bid?
  4. What is the process for becoming a representative?

His answers: Trump is “entertainment.” The job’s stressful. And, yes, he may someday consider a presidential bid, but not now. “I don’t think you should rule anything out if you’re interested in public service,” Amash said.

Mail and Social Media are Musts

As for how to become a representative, he said winning an election isn’t as much about voting for a politician because of his or her beliefs, but more about drilling your name into voters’ heads.

He believes the best way to do that is by direct mail — those postcards and flyers you find in your mailbox around election time with a candidate’s name and picture on them.

“People have to look at it,” Amash said. “Getting your name out there is political realism. Most people are not informed. People don’t pay a lot of attention to politics.”

Jennifer Tuokkola, 17, is one student who has been paying attention and watching the debates. “I’m interested in it because I’ll be able to vote in the next election,” she said.

And, despite their gloomy views of politics, some students expressed interest in running for office one day. “I want to make a difference for the community and country,” said Michael McNee.

Most young people communicate today via social media, and Amash is big on using it. He explains every vote he makes on Facebook and sends his own Tweets.

When he showed up to talk to the students, the 35-year-old politician looked younger than his official website picture. He was dressed in jeans, athletic shoes, a zippered sweater, an Apple watch — and sported the popular man trend: a beard. Amash said he grew the beard for fun, but family pictures were going to be taken soon and his mom was probably going to insist he shave it.

If he does, he may want to consider growing it again. The majority of students in one of the classes he was talking to — and whose votes he’s going to want in the future — thought he should keep it. That info was gleaned from a quick vote in which 22 students said they thought he should keep the beard, and three thought he should get rid of it. Pro-beard comments included, “He is more real and more personable with it. He’s less fake and businesslike.”

On the “get-rid-of-it side,” a student said Amash “should be proud and flaunt his age and prove his worth.”

CONNECT

Take the quiz students in Thornapple Kellogg’s government class took to see how their beliefs align with the candidates.

Justin Amash

Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio

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