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Kris Smoot ’15

Student’s response to State of the Union address goes national

Kris Smoot

On Jan. 28, many across the country watched President Obama present the State of the Union address. At Transylvania, political reporter and Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow Eleanor Clift sat in the W.T. Young Campus Center with a group of interested students and community members while she tweeted her analysis of the president’s comments. 

Meanwhile, Transylvania student and Frankfort native Kris Smoot '15, a member of the Kentucky Green Party Executive Committee, finalized the Kentucky Green Party’s official response to the State of the Union address. His comments attracted the notice of the National Green Party, who shared his response on their website. 

In an email interview with Transylvania communications writer Tom Martin, Smoot discussed his views and relayed how his Transylvania education has influenced his perspectives and his plans for the future.

TM: As an Executive Committee Member and Youth Caucus Steering Committee Co-Chair of the Kentucky Green Party, you recently offered a response to President Obama's 2014 State of the Union address. Your response touched on a wide range of issues, but, after viewing and listening to the president's speech, what impressed you most (positively or negatively)?

KS: I found most alarming the degree to which President Obama pandered to corporations in his address. Almost every paragraph was aimed at giving corporations responsibility for their employees rather than getting Congress to pass tougher standards on business. President Obama wants to give tax credits to corporations that hire American workers or refrain from releasing pollution into our air, but he does not want to use the government to accomplish this. I don't believe that those who head corporations will do anything to help their employees unless they are forced to do so.

TM:  Among the issues raised by the president, which are most important to you and the Green Party?

KS: Of utmost importance are the state of our environment as well as improving public access to health care and education. We believe in reducing our dependence on coal, oil, and natural gas because the production of these resources contributes to air pollution as well as the pollution of our water supplies. (For these reasons, we disagree with the President when he says that he wants to improve natural gas production in order to combat climate change.) The Green Party also believes in free single-payer health care as well as free higher public education. We need healthy and educated workers and families who will be able to put their efforts back into the economy while also being adequately able to question and spot misinformation from the government and media.

TM: You advocate raising the minimum wage to $15/hour. Many small businesses assert that a raise to the proposed $10.10, let alone one of this magnitude, would not be sustainable. What are your thoughts on that argument?

KS: I believe this argument is only made so that business owners can keep more of their profits instead of actually giving credit to the laborers who work hard to produce goods and perform services. Naturally, with a hierarchical economic system such as capitalism, there will be people who attempt to withhold currency from others in order to maintain power over people. The more power people have, the less they will need to depend on bosses or welfare programs in order to survive. A higher wage is an essential component of self-sufficiency. As to the argument that corporations will jack up their prices with wage increases, corporate CEOs have drastically increased their salaries to the point that they make over 350 times as much money per year as the average worker does. Even with this, prices have not gone up to match these increases. Simply put, corporations can easily afford to pay their workers.

TM: You call for the "overthrow (of) the two-party duopoly that plagues Washington and plagues Frankfort." Why? 

KS: I believe that most of the political strife that we see in our modern, privatized media is mostly just a stage show with both major parties jockeying for a rise in poll numbers. The Democrats and the Republicans are so concerned with their own standing that they've lost sight of the needs of the American people. While Republicans are content with taking away other people's rights and giving corporations too much leeway, the Democrats mostly sit on the sidelines and avoid conflict. As a result, they have let the GOP push this country to the right, and, as a result of that, the Democrats have gone even further to the right in recent years. We need a political party that actually stands for the left, which often goes unrepresented in this country. We want people to vote for us because of our platform and not just because we oppose something. We want to see a return of positivity to the realm of political discourse.

TM:  How?

KS:  We at the Kentucky Green Party are strong advocates for ballot access and electoral reform. While Democrats and Republicans are only required to get two signatures on a petition to be on the ballot for an office such as U.S. Senator to represent Kentucky, an independent or minor party candidate is required to get 5,000 signatures. The petition process is long and costly and hamstrings alternative candidates from the get-go. We believe that all potential candidates should have equal requirements. We also feel that our current system of elections via simple plurality lends an inherent bias to parties that are already in power and gives people the sentiment that they would be "wasting their vote" by voting for a Green, Libertarian, etc. We advocate a shift to instant runoff, or ranked choice, balloting, in which voters rank each candidate by preference and the last place finisher has their voters' second choice counted towards the total, and so on until a winner is declared. Democrats would not have to fear Republicans getting into office as they do now, and vice versa.

TM: What would you like to see replacing these traditional parties? 

KS: I would like to see governments in which multiple parties are represented. This would force the party with a plurality of representatives/senators to actually listen to minority parties in order to pass legislation. This would further decentralize political power and give the people more of a voice since they would not feel bound to support or oppose one particular party that may or may not act in their best interest. More choices is a good thing. There are Green Party members in Parliaments across the world, from Canada to Australia to Great Britain to Germany. The United States and Kentucky deserve to hear our voices, too.

TM: How has your Transylvania experience influenced your world view and encouraged your active engagement in key issues?

KS: I fully believe that, without my education at Transylvania, I would not be a Green Party member. Being here has encouraged me to look deeper into issues and Transylvania has taught me to always evaluate my opinions and see how they hold up in the face of better information. This education has been a gateway for me to alter my world view completely in the two and a half years since I first arrived for summer orientation. This school has opened my mind considerably. I am better prepared to face issues and help others be active due to my ability to dispense vital information.

TM: What is your message to fellow students who may be concerned about the course of their nation's future?

KS: Do not trust mainstream media outlets for your consumption of information. As private entities, they are bound to their shareholders to produce a profit. What you get from them is an oversaturated, sensationalized, exaggerated form of the truth. Try to look to independent sources (such as Democracy Now!) for your news. Also look for foreign perspectives on American issues, because oftentimes American media outlets will refrain from criticizing the government (like this summer when MSNBC did not criticize the President for the deeply troubling NSA spying program). Just be aware of what you consume if you have the means to be aware.

TM:  How do you anticipate applying your liberal arts education and experience following graduation?

KS: I plan on using my altered world view to help others not just immediately near me, but across the world. After I graduate, my desire is to work on Green Party political campaigns, if not run for office myself. I need to give myself a greater platform from which I can convince people that they are truly empowered. As a political science major and French and music double minor, I have a variety of ways through which I can help people. I can help improve a political system or communicate with Greens and poor and working class people in Francophone countries or inspire people through song in multiple languages. The possibilities are endless with a liberal arts education, a luxury that should be affordable for everyone.

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