High school students from McKean and Warren counties had a chance Tuesday to ask lawmakers some tough questions at the annual Youth Government Outreach session held at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.
State Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, and U.S. Rep Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., were among the legislators who spoke to the youth.
Thompson took the stage, apologizing to the students in the audience for a dry cough he had: “I’m clearing that swamp out of my lungs,” he said with a laugh.
He told the students that life is guided by “three Ps,” purpose, principles and passion.
“I think it’s important to have purpose. If you don’t have purpose, you are an inanimate object,” he said.
Describing principles, Thompson gave the analogy of a weatherman standing out in a storm, being pushed around by the winds. “They are totally at the influence of the external forces around them. You know what? That’s life.”
He cautioned the students about the dangers of social media, and about posting things that could hurt their futures.
“The consequences could be significant,” Thompson said. He spoke about principle-based leadership, and making sure when he makes a decision, that it is something that fits with his principles: Duty to God, duty to country, duty to others and duty to self — being prepared to do his best.
Moving on to the third “P,” Thompson asked the students if they like getting up in the morning. With a round of laughter, the students agreed that they did not.
The congressman shared that having a passion for something can help one get excited about life.
“Life is too short not to have a passion for what you are doing,” Thompson said. “Life is not a straight line. Sometimes it takes us awhile to get to where we need to be. Finding out your life’s purpose can make you passionate.”
Thompson took questions from the students, too. One asked about ownership of mineral rights in Pennsylvania, which Thompson said has been decided by the courts and he is attempting to codify into law. Another asked about the death penalty, which Thompson said is a tough issue for all involved, but said he believes it is necessary as a deterrence.
Another asked about stopping gun violence, to which Thompson responded that behavioral health issues seem to be a common issue with people who commit violent acts.
“We need to make sure our schools have resources to help. Life can be difficult. Having the types of resources to help kids be resilient and be able to cope better, to have the support systems they need” are important considerations, he said.
“Cultural changes are needed,” Thompson said.
Another asked about bringing necessary jobs and economic improvement to the region. Thompson said restoring agricultural is important, as is bringing 5G internet to rural areas.
“We also passed legislation for the modernization of career and technical education,” he said, “where students can get the skills and education they need to fill those jobs.”
Prior to Thompson taking the stage, Rapp addressed the students.
Rapp, who has a reputation for being outspoken in her beliefs, explained a bit about herself, saying she is a conservative and the first woman to be elected in her district — to a round of applause from the students. She explained she is a strong supporter of President Trump, and of oil and gas.
“I don’t believe in the climate change hoax,” she said. “I don’t believe that we can actually change a lot of our climate by discontinuing the use of fossil fuels.”
She continued, explaining she is strongly pro-life.
“I am proud of our president for being the most pro-life president we have ever seen. I am also chair of the pro-life caucus in the House, and I am very proud of that,” she said.
When it came time for questions, a student spoke up and asked, “You say you are for freedom and liberties, but you don’t believe in pro choice.” How do you justify that, the student asked.
Rapp responded, “Freedom of choice, to me, is the moment you decide to have an intimate relationship. It’s not just your life. There’s another life here.”
“What about if I were raped?” the student asked.
Rapp explained there are exceptions for rape, but said the law does draw a line at how many weeks along an abortion can be performed.
“There are two lives. There is the child’s life…” Rapp said before the student spoke up and said, “No, it is an embryo.”
Rapp said, “No. It is a child. There is disagreement, but I respect your opinion. A baby’s heartbeat starts at 8 to 10 weeks. When a heartbeat stops, we consider a person dead. Shouldn’t we consider a person alive when a heartbeat starts?”
The annual event brings legislators in to speak to high school juniors and seniors from their districts.