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Student council quizzes Congressman

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Photo by Judith Pannebaker
Congressman Lamar Smith was happily surrounded by representatives from the Hill Country Elementary School Student Country during a recent visit to the Lakehills Area Library.

During a whistle stop tour around Bandera County on Friday, Jan. 22, District 21 Congressman Lamar Smith dropped by the Lakehills Area Library, to address constituents and present a United States flag that had flown over the Capitol to Library Director Diana Landis. However, the bulk of the session was spent with constituents who were well below the legal voting age - representatives from the Hill Country Elementary School student council.
Lila Ward, program chairman for the Bandera County Republican Women and Lakehills resident, introduced Smith, whom she had met in 1986 during his initial run for Congress. In turn, Smith described Ward as "an institution and state treasure."
According to Ward, joint studies by the University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University had identified Smith as "The Most Effective Member of the House in the 112th Congress." Later, Smith - with tongue planted firmly in cheek - deemed the studies "clearly most important ones ever conducted in the United States."
Calling homeland security "the number one issue" facing the United States today, Smith said the ideal is to defeat ISIS, not contain it.
He referenced President Barack Obama's plan to admit thousands of Syrian refugees to this county, saying, "I'm opposed to this unless thorough background checks can vet the refugees. ISIS has already announced they planned to sneak terrorists into the United States through this program." Smith added that 25 percent of the refugees are young males of military age, which most certainly could not be considered the norm.
While testifying before a House committee, a question from Smith, FBI Director James Comey answered a question from Smith, noting that the FBI could not conduct background checks on Syrian refugees. Comey added that he had a "real concern" about the program.
"I was surprised by his honesty," Smith said, adding, "We must know who is coming to this country. The world is a more dangerous place than it was six to eight years ago."
Regarding the status of the United States abroad, "We must be feared by our enemies and respected by our friends and allies."
The second most important challenge facing the US today is, according to Smith, an increasing urgency to "get our economic house in order." To that end, he supports a Constitutional amendment for a balanced budget to stimulate economic growth, which he called "half of what it should be"; jumpstart stagnant incomes; and assist in job creation.
Not surprisingly Smith's third priority stems from his chairmanship of the WHAT committee. "I'm having fun with this, my jurisdiction is space."
Referencing the Hubble Space Telescope, which penetrates deep space, Smith told the elementary students about a "dark speck of sky" identified by the telescope, which turned out to be "3,000 points of light, each a galaxy containing 200 million stars. Can you imagine, 200 million stars times 3,000?"
The story segued into a discussion on STEM - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - which came suggestion by Smith that students study those subjects and "get great jobs."
During a question and answer period, one student asked, "Were you ever on student council?"
"Yes, for one year while in high school," Smith said. "It should come as no surprise that I was the only student on the council who was not on the football team?"
To the question how long did it take you to get where you are today, the short answer was "many years," but the longer answer was more interesting.
Smith began his ascent in politics in what he described as the "lowest elected office" - precinct chairman. "I took one step at a time and opportunities came up," he reminisced. "I learned by beginning at the bottom. When I served as Republican Party chairman, one of my duties was to mop the floors and pick up dead roaches."
Recalling an incident that occurred shortly after he was first elected to Congress, Smith said, "I had just spent $1 million and a year and a half on the campaign. I was at H-E-B when the high school girl at the checkout counter said, 'You look familiar. Don't I know you?' I was very proud until she added, "Weren't you my defensive driving instructor'?"
One student wanted to know if Smith's job was hard. "I really like my job so it's not hard, but I work long hours," he replied. Smith works in Washington, DC from Monday through Thursday or Tuesday to Saturday then comes back to Texas on weekends. "When I'm in Washington, I'm at work at 8 am and don't leave the office until 11 pm or after midnight."
When Smith finally leaves the Capitol, his "home away from home" is a 300 square foot apartment that he's rented for four years. "I've never used the refrigerator, microwave or oven because I have those at the office." Smith added, "I don't have a parking garage so I have to park at the curb - and my car has to be moved by 8 am or I'll be ticketed."
To a question about his "favorite" part of his job, Smith replied, "Helping people," but gave full credit to his staff for assisting constituents.
"I also love this part of my job," he added, "because the toughest (and most interesting) questions come from the youngest people."