Travis Bennett is not a normal college student. Bennett, 22, came back to Plymouth State University in the fall with more on his plate than most returning juniors. He was in the middle of running a write-in campaign to get on the Democratic ticket for District 8 State Representative. The political science major balanced classes and his campaign during the first week of school, and on September 9, Bennett tallied 141 votes. He only needed 35 to get on the ticket.
Bennett, originally from Nashua, NH, is gearing up with running mates Suzanne Smith (Hebron, NH) and Mary Cooney (Holderness, NH) for Election Day on November 4. Bennett found time between his campaign, classes, and working for the peace and social justice council on campus to sit down and discuss his campaign.
Clock: So you’re running for state representative. Why?
Bennett: I’m a political science student, and last year I became progressively involved with the Democratic Party. I helped start up the PSU Democrats, and we helped during last year’s special election, after Ray Burton’s passing, with Mike Cryans’s campaign and tried to get him elected to Burton’s vacated seat. That was unsuccessful, unfortunately. After that, I started an internship with the New Hampshire Democratic Party, and started to meet the Plymouth area Democrats by going to their meetings. Sid Lovett, who is currently a state representative, won’t be running for reelection. So, the party was looking for candidates to fill his seat, and I volunteered.
Clock: You’re still in school. Why is now the time to run for election? Are you still going to be attending school?
Bennett: Yes, I’ll still be in school. It’s definitely going to be a big time commitment, but it’s not unheard of for a student to run. It is technically a paid position, but the compensation isn’t a lot of money, so the only people who can afford to do it are commonly retirees and sometimes students. [Students] don’t have a family commitment or regular bills yet.
Clock: What is on your political agenda?
Bennett: One of my main concerns as a young, liberal Democrat is the environment. Obviously Northern Pass and the wind farms are an issue right now. I want to help find solutions and compromises to that. Northern Pass is a definite no, and I’m against wind farms as well. A lot of people here are opposed to them. They have a lot of negative impacts: the environmental impact, devaluing property, and the economic impact.
Clock: That seems weird, because wind power is something a lot of Democrats and Green politicians support as a renewable resource.
Bennett: That’s right, but there’s actually been a split for that reason. You think wind power; you think “green energy.” But at the same time, how it’s being done, I don’t support. In Newfound, they basically deforested the top of a ridgeline, and they put these giant wind turbines on top of a ridge. So when you have to create an access road essentially on top of a mountain, it’s going to create a lot of erosion. It’s also going to cause a lot of problems with watershed and the local area. It obviously scarred the view, too. In addition, these are foreign-based companies who don’t have the local connection.
Clock: What about job creation and bringing in money for the local economy?
Bennett: They are hiring local people, which is good.
Clock: But these construction jobs can also be viewed as temporary. When it’s built, it’s built.
Bennett: Yeah, and it all goes onto the grid, just like other sources of electricity.
Clock: Another big thing that students care about is the cost of education.
Bennett: Yes, that’s the other big thing I wanted to get to. One of the committees I hope to get on is education or possibly resource and recreation development. Just having a university student on the education committee arguing for more state university funding could be huge. New Hampshire was the lowest in terms of state university funding when the Republicans controlled the House. They gained control of the House in 2010, and in 2012 they cut university funding in half.
Clock: What would you do different?
Bennett: I would obviously just argue for more funding. If you look at Plymouth for example, the amount of money the students bring to the school gets reinvested into the community through knowledge, events, and the wealth of resources the town receives from having the University here.
Clock: You could also argue for all the money students bring into the local economy by living here.
Bennett: Exactly. It’s an investment in the state and our future generation that we aren’t making right now. It’s really disheartening too, because if you look at northern New Hampshire demographically, it’s probably one of the oldest regions in the country. New Hampshire is one of seven states with an average age above 40. That’s a problem that isn’t going to be addressed by cutting university funding.
Clock: Another big issue nationally is the healthcare debate, and you just mentioned the rising age of population in New Hampshire, what is your stance on that?
Bennett: One of the big things in the Medicaid expansion. They passed Medicaid nationally, but one of the things that states are doing, especially in the South, is blocking implementation at the state level. New Hampshire was in the process of debating it. So far, around 20 states have approved the national Medicaid plan. So they’re taking the funds set aside for Medicaid expansion and using them. And because the GOP controlled the New Hampshire House of Representatives, and they are opposed to Obamacare, the money was just sitting there not being used. When you have 50,000 plus people in New Hampshire without access to healthcare, and they [would] as a result of [Obamacare and Medicaid expansion]. It’s just common sense, but it’s a matter of disseminating the information. It’s been a big problem because there’s so much misinformation out there. When you look at it, we are the only western country without some form of government subsidized healthcare. It’s pretty simple to me. Either way we’re going to be paying for that cost.
Clock: You make it sound like you just volunteered for the position, but was there any factor or cause that really made you want to step up and run for election?
Bennett: I mean I certainly wasn’t planning on it. I didn’t set out to become part of state legislature during my college career. I just got to know the Plymouth area Democrats. I’ve just been going to their meetings, and the stuff we were talking about: state university funding, healthcare, etc. [Our stance is] perceived by the GOP as having big government, the government is bad, and the government’s going to come take our guns away. Today, though, there needs to be some social structure in place to help citizens provide the basic framework in which society operates. When that’s not there, it’s pretty clear which states succeed and which states don’t. You look at Vermont for example. They have a lower unemployment rate, a higher minimum wage, and a lot of social programs New Hampshire doesn’t. Granted they have their problems too, but we could be doing some of those same things to help the problems in our own state.
Clock: Is there a specific problem you want to address?
Bennett: Definitely the university funding. That’s a big thing. If you address that, you can also address the demographic issue and the number of jobs in the economy. My father works in the high tech industry. He says there’s a big boom in the Silicon Valley, but at the same time there are a lot of college students trying to start businesses, but they can’t go to tech centers like Silicon Valley because the cost of living and cost of operations there is too high. There’s a big sector of the economy that’s looking for places to start up and do business. New Hampshire could be one of those places. We have the resources and we have the space, it’s just providing the right framework for that to succeed. That starts at the university level.
Clock: What would you say to someone who thought you couldn’t do the job of state representative because of your age and lack of life experience?
Bennett: I think the opposite should be stated. The biggest problem with my generation is a lack of interest. I held that feeling for a little while. A lot of kids feel unaffected and disassociated with the political arena. Really it’s just a matter of getting involved. I might not have the same amount of experience as the people in the legislature, but people in the New Hampshire legislature are from the same demographic. Most are retirees and people from a different generation so I think if we can get some younger people elected to the state house, with new ideas and more energy, I think that can have a huge effect on stirring debate, conversation, and some good pieces of legislation that will help the state. It’s definitely an interesting position to be in. I think I can do some good things.
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