By Brooke Hill | Staff Writer
Chet Edwards, Baylor’s W. R. Poage Distinguished Chair of Public Service, has served publically for 28 years. As a Texas State Senator from 1983 to 1990 and as a U.S. Representative from 1991 to 2010, he earned the reputation of being a bipartisan leader while representing the most Republican district in the nation. Now he continues that service as a board member of the Military Child Education Coalition and as a Member of the Army National Cemeteries Advisory Commission, which is helping to develop a long-term plan for the future of Arlington National Cemetery. Edwards is a home-grown Texan, having graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in Economics from Texas A&M University, and says that his plan is to resume living in Waco year-round. Edwards sat down with The Lariat to discuss his views on politics in Washington, D.C., today.
Q: After you’ve been in politics and Washington for so many years, what are your views on politics in Washington today?
A: I think we’ve got the greatest democracy in the world, but right now it’s broken. Severe partisanship in Washington is making it hard to address the big problems. The national debt of $20 trillion, immigration, health care, all of those issues are issues that require Democrats and Republicans to come together, and so I hope that in years ahead we find ways to break through that wall of partisanship there.
Q: What are your views on President Trump’s Twitter account?
A: The president has certainly fond a way to go directly to tens of millions of fans of his by going to Twitter, but while that’s an effective use of communication with his base, I’m not sure that’s the right way for the leader of the free world and the largest military in the world to be addressing foreign policy and other complicated, serious issues. He has every right to use Twitter, but I hope when it comes to announcing new policy and issues with international implications, maybe think twice before he uses Twitter.
Q: If Twitter had been around when you were running for office 20 or so years ago, would you have used it?
If Twitter had been used while I was in Congress, absolutely I would’ve used it. It is a great way to go around that layer of having to deal with somebody else to communicate to voters with. I think it’s a positive form of communication, it does allow an elected official to directly communicate his or her thoughts, but sometimes the downside is it forces the oversimplification of complex issues.
Q: How has Washington changed because of social media and the internet from when you were there?
A: Social media and the internet really weren’t around when I started in Congress. I think generally it’s positive. I think the internet has allowed everyday citizens to get access to information on voting records and issues and different opinions than I could’ve ever imagined in my younger lifetime. I think it’s good, I think social media allows people to create movements overnight on important issues. I think the challenge of it is that you can say anything on a blog, you can say anything on the internet, you can say anything in a tweet whether it’s factual or not. There’s still a real need for information that flows through professional journalists that feel the responsibility to separate truth from fiction.
Q: Some Democrats have been speculating that Trump might not finish out his four years in office. Do you think Trump will finish out his four year term?
A: I think that the likelihood is that President Trump will finish out his four year term. I went through an impeachment process in Washington that was very partisan in the 1990’s against Bill Clinton and reacted against those pushing impeachment, so as a democrat i would urge democrats to be very careful. Impeaching a president, which is overturning the voices of the American people who elected him, should only be done under the most unique of circumstances. In terms of whether something might come out in the Russian investigation that could put President Trump at risk of being impeached, I think that’s where we just have to wait and see what the facts might bring out.
Q: Do you think that we will ever get back to a Washington, D.C., where people think about what’s good for the country instead of what’s good for their party?
A: I think we’ll eventually find a way through the harsh partisanship. We’ve gone through difficult times before. In 1800, the presidential election, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams said things about each other you couldn’t put in today’s Waco Tribune-Herald. But it’s not going to be easy. I think the big problem with partisanship doesn’t start in Washington, it starts with us, we the people, the American people. We’re so stove-piped in the news we watch. If we’re conservative, we watch FOX news and think Democrats are evil. If we’re liberal, we watch MSNBC or CNN and think Republicans are heartless. The American people have got to be a part of rebuilding respect for people who have a different point of view. After all, it’s only in a dictatorship that you have a right to get your way every time.
Q: Do you think that the military is where it needs to be now?
A: Let every adversary to our nation understand that America today has the most powerful militaries in the history of the world. Whether it’s North Korea or any other nation, they should never doubt that. Having said that, I think there are areas that, having been at war for well over a decade now in Iraq and Afghanistan, our military is stretched thin and not getting the training they need. So I do think we need additional funding in the Department of Defense in order to maintain the level readiness so that our troops are ready, God forbid, if called to go to war overnight and be able to do their job.
Q: What would you like to see the president do about North Korea?
A: Be careful. There’s not an easy answer. Nobody has a simple solution to that. We can’t, in my opinion, forever ignore and allow North Korea to develop nuclear weapons and missiles. They could put every major American city someday at risk of nuclear attack because of the decision of one madman leading their country. At the same time, I’ve seen the impact of war, and we need a president who will be very careful and try every possible way to patiently use international diplomacy and pressure to prevent that war from happening. If we go to war with North Korea, there are Baylor students who could end up, if the war is long enough, being drafted and going to war. The implications of millions of South Koreans dying, and if he actually has a nuclear missile, perhaps hundred of thousands of Americans being killed in a nuclear attack, so war should be the absolute, absolute last option for the president.
Q: Since you were involved with the Senate Education Committee, which oversaw class size reduction in public schools, how do you think we can continue to fix public schools in Texas?
A: I don’t have a simple solution to solving our public education challenges, but I think it has to be a partnership. A big part of that partnership has to be moms and dads, families. You can’t just put all the burden of educating a child on a teacher. We need parents that help encourage their children to learn at a young age. We need parents that provide a loving and supporting environment for their children. I personally would be one to oppose taking money out of the public school system, tax money out of the public school system that educates nine out of 10 of our youth in America and taking those dollars to subsidize private schools K-12 that educate one out of 10. We absolutely have to make our public schools work.
Q: How do you feel about the tearing down of the Confederate statues that have been going on all over America and most recently in Dallas? Do you feel that it’s necessary?
A: I think we have to look at that on a case-by-case basis. I do think that many of those Confederate monuments were put up at a time when there were Southerners who still didn’t like the fact that the South lost the Civil War. Whether intended or not, I think they were sending a message that some of the heroes were the people, such as Jefferson Davis, who were trying to destroy the United States as a nation. I’m one who tends to think you probably need to look at that as a case-by-case as to what was the history of the monument, what was the meaning of it, what other monuments are in the arena. But I do respect those, and I hope others would respect those, who believe that monument after monument after monument of Confederate leaders doesn’t send the right message to our country in the 21st century.
Q: Do you ever think about getting back into politics?
A: Serving 28 years in the Texas Senate and the U.S. Congress was the privilege of my lifetime, and I consider it an honor every single day to be a small part of our democracy. But I value my 25 marriage to Lea Ann, a Baylor graduate, far too much to think about running for office again. I think it’s time for a new generation of young people to take their role and their place in their democracy. I hope the best and brightest of todays millennials will not turn away from the idea of public service because of the cynicism toward government. Government isn’t inherently evil. It’s there to protect our rights and our democracy. It’s inherently imperfect. Young people who are frustrated with those imperfections ought to choose to be a pat of our democracy and make it better. But as for my situation, I’ve run my last campaign.
Q: Do you have any advice for Baylor students who want to go into politics?
A: In terms of advice to Baylor students, I would just hope some of them would think about using their God-given talents to make the world a better place through public service. You can make the world a better place. You can make a difference by being a teacher, a good neighbor, by being a business person and creating jobs, [or by being] a lawyer, but we still need the best and brightest of this generation to go into public service. I hope young people realize that it can be a rewarding career to go into public service. Politics isn’t all about partisanship and ugliness. It’s about trying to preserve our freedoms and opportunities and security in our country.
Q: What would you say to student journalists in the midst of a media world accused of giving “fake news”?
A: I would hope journalism students would understand that making the decision to become a journalist is a noble calling in life. Our Founding Fathers understood that journalists were an essential part of the checks and balances of our government. Today in particular, whether one is a Trump supporter or not a supporter, I think it’s clear we need professional journalists that are willing to stand up to the president when what he says is not true, when what he says is not factual. That has always been the role of journalists, whether we’ve had a Republican or Democratic president. I would applaud and urge on bright young students thinking about a career in journalism.