Former Congressmen Bring Political Insights to Students

From left: Gary Franks, David Dumke and Mike Capuano.

By: Rose Balicki, Nelson Mandela African Affairs Fellow, Office of Global Perspectives and International Initiatives, UCF

“I got angry.”

“They told me I couldn’t.”

When a student asked two former members of Congress why they got involved in politics in the first place, Gary Franks (R-CT, 1991-1997) and Mike Capuano (D-MA, 1999-2019) did not hold back.

The representatives, a Republican and a Democrat, visited UCF this week to connect with the campus community about serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, and why they got involved in the first place. While here, they sat as guests for WUCF’s Global Perspectives TV show, met with faculty over lunch, guest lectured in an American National Government class, were interviewed for a student podcast series and spoke at a public event on Wednesday. Throughout these engagements, their message was the same: “Get involved and vote.”

Wednesday’s public forum began with Franks and Capuano detailing their individual histories, and what led them to pursue a career on Capitol Hill.

Franks said he knew early on that he would be a Congressman despite not having a plan in place to achieve this goal. As time progressed, he realized he could become a black congressman in a predominately white district by being “everyone’s second choice.” Franks stated he would ask voters in his district to vote for him if their first pick dropped out of the race. This strategy ultimately led to his election as the first black Republican elected to the House in nearly 60 years — despite people telling him he would never win.

For Capuano, becoming a politician was a result of wanting his son to have a safe place to play. Describing the glass-littered playgrounds of his neighborhood, Capuano stated “if my son wanted to play, I’d have to take him to a playground one or two neighborhoods over.” Representing a district where the “measure of success was how fast you could get out,” Capuano decided to work toward fixing his neighborhood instead of leaving it.

The forum then shifted into a question and answer session.

Students asked both representatives about their stance on immigration. Capuano, who said 30% of residents in his district were not born in America, stated that there is not an area of foreign affairs in which America should not be involved. Franks expressed the need for improvement of current immigration laws, with both agreeing they had no problem with immigrants entering the country through legal means.

Students at the public event and those in the American National Government class were able to interact with the representatives and learn from their unique experiences.

Franks and Capuano were hosted by the UCF Office of Global Perspectives and International Initiatives. Their visit was made possible through the Congress to Campus program of the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress (USAFMC). The program gives students an inside look into Congress and an opportunity to interact with former Members. UCF has enjoyed a strong partnership with USAFMC through the Lou Frey Institute whose founder, Congressman Lou Frey, Jr. (R-FL, 1969-1979), was a former president.


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