College students should not have to pay for the first two years of college, should have loans with 0% interest rates and should not have to start paying those loans back until three years after college.
That was a U.S. House candidate’s plan for helping with student loan debt during his stump speech Thursday at Kilgore College.
Kilgore was one of five East Texas college campuses visited Thursday by seven political candidates. Build East Texas, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that connects East Texas with candidates, sponsored the tour that also stopped at Angelina College, Stephen F. Austin State University, Wiley College and the University of Texas at Tyler.
Hank Gilbert is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 1st Congressional District post currently held by U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler.
He said he was a high school agriculture teacher and saw too many students not attend college because they could not afford it and did not want to go into debt.
“I believe the first two years of your college career should be free,” Gilbert said.
He said that would include trade school, because after it’s completed, those students could contribute to the economy.
Six candidates who accompanied Gilbert are seeking their parties’ nominations for the post currently held by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Those Senate candidates on the tour Thursday were Republican Mark Yancey and Democrats Chris Bell, Michael Cooper, Jack Foster, Sema Hernandez and Adrian Ocegueda.
During the Kilgore College stop, many of the candidates focused on issues they believe young people care about. The candidates mingled with about 30 students, gave short speeches and spoke one-on-one with students.
Trying to engage the young voters, candidates used their speaking time to focus on issues that concern college students.
Foster said property and homeowners are frustrated at this time of year when taxes are due. He said a real investment program should be available for them, such as the ability to invest in colleges.
“Kilgore won’t have to worry about financial aid anymore,” he said. “Let homeowners invest in them.”
Cooper said he pushes for education in his campaign, and a good education system can help the economy.
“I’m here to fight for your future,” he said. “We are a country that’s rich in almost every area. We should also be rich with having the proper educators.”
Climate change also was a topic of discussion for more than one candidate.
Bell said Texas is in a position to lead on reversing climate change.
“We have an abundance of renewable resources,” he said. “We can continue to be an energy capital if we have someone who will lead in that direction.”
Candidates also discussed health care and how it could improve. Hernandez said her campaign focuses on the issue and that she supports the Medicare for All plan.
“I am a person who addresses the health care inequalities as well as ratifying the (Equal Rights Amendment) ... to ensure that women are protected, not just in the workplace but in health care,” she said. “I do believe that every woman who needs an abortion, for whatever reason — because not everyone wants to get an abortion, it’s a decision that is made because of whatever circumstances that a woman is facing, that a family is facing — that they are able to have the ability to do that in a safe place that is no longer putting women and their bodies at risk of getting an infection and dying from that.”
Yancey and Ocegueda talked about the economy with the students.
Specifically, Yancey cited a waste in government spending. He said he would cut irresponsible spending and some departments, such as the Department of Education.
“I will tell you this, John Cornyn has been on a federal government income for 30 years, and it’s time for him to go,” he said. “No one should sit in the Senate for as long as John Cornyn has. There should be term limits in the Senate.”
Ocegueda spoke about monetary theory. He said more people need to understand how money and the economy works.
“If you think we’re going to solve environmental problems … we need money,” he said. “Where our party gets beat is on the simple question, ‘How will you pay for that?’”
Kilgore College student DeLancey Torres, president of the Diversity Alliance, helped organize and run the event.
“We really want it to be an event where students can have a voice and have a chance to be heard, because their voices matter. Our voices matter,” she said. “Some of the most important things young students are interested in — of course, student debt, that’s huge; everyone is in debt — but looking forward in the future, we’re worried about jobs. We’re worried about employment. We’re worried about equality when we enter the workforce. There’s so much.”