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Students get political view

Rep. Rick Larsen answered questions from  students at South Whidbey High School on topics ranging from the war on terrorism to pretzels. - Gayle Saran
Rep. Rick Larsen answered questions from students at South Whidbey High School on topics ranging from the war on terrorism to pretzels.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

They aren't voters yet, but that didn't deter Rep. Rick Larsen from taking some tough questions from South Whidbey High School students Friday.

The Democratic Congressman from Legislative District 2 answered questions for an hour from students in Jorn Aronson's Contemporary World Problems Class at South Whidbey High School.

Larsen told the class he was there to answer questions and address the issues that concerned them most.

Senior student James Neverman II asked the question that was on the minds of most. He wanted to know whether Larsen agrees with the Bush administration's policies on the war on terrorism.

"I am supporting the president's policies in fighting terrorism," Larsen said. "This is going to be long fight. It may be 30 or 35 years before we can say we have won the war against terrorists."

He identified several different components to the war on terrorism and described it as "multifaceted."

"It is important to freeze the money that terrorists use to finance their activities, and very important to keep diplomatic channels open with other countries. More data sharing between enforcement agencies is a good thing too."

Larsen told the students that this country has been going through a rough time since Sept. 11. Younger Americans, he said, are at the forefront of the war on terrorism.

"The war on terrorism relies on young men and women, 18-19 years old -- not much older than many of you -- to defend our interests," he said.

Larsen also said he wants to increase the number of border agents at Canadian-Washington border crossings to increase security and to make the travel between the two countries easier.

Terrorism has not left Larsen untouched. It came home to Larsen's Washington D.C. office when anthrax-laden mail came into his building. The resulting evacuation of the building stopped Larsen's mail for six weeks.

"The anthrax scare affected many of us in D.C.," he said. "My office had to move to another building for two and half weeks."

But terrorism wasn't the only thing on students' minds. Lisa Bergthaler questioned Larsen about this country's relationship with Israel.

"Over time, our relationships with Israel and moderate Arab countries will have to shift somewhat," he said "I struggle with that question and don't have a clear answer."

Chuck Applebee asked what the congressman thought of military tribunals and the American student John Walker who was fighting for the Taliban.

Larsen said he did not favor the tribunals.

"We have to show our system of law is strong, wise to use due process to show other countries that we can still be fair, use our courts," he said. "We should be open to public scrutiny."

Concerning Walker, Larsen believes he should be charged and tried as a United States citizen in the courts.

"He was waging war with the Taliban against the U.S. He has been indicted. I think it's appropriate."

Larsen then moved on to talk about Enron. He said the apparent scandal in surrounding the company and its executives smacks of something "immoral." He compared the executives to "rats jumping off a sinking ship."

"I am less concerned about Enron and its executives and very concerned about its employees their retirement 401K," he said. "It makes me sick to see what's happening to those employees."

According to Larsen, there are 10 separate Congressional investigations into Enron's financial activities.

Commenting on the economy, Larsen said did not shy away from the "r" word, "recession."

"We are in recession," he said. "Boeing is laying off a lot of people, others losing jobs too. I am helping to put together a package to help people who are hurt the worst in this economy."

Up for re-election in November, Larsen discussed the election process with the students. He said he wants to remain a member of Congress to make elections more fair by targeting soft money and pushing campaign finance reform.

"Elections are stressful, but they are positive," he said. "It forces candidates to say what we believe."

On a lighter note, one student asked Larsen if he liked pretzels. The question was a reference to an incident last week when President Bush choked on a pretzel and passed out.

"Congress should not ban pretzels," he said. "My advice to the president is listen to your mom, and chew before you swallow."

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