It pays to know your government.
Steve Southerland, Florida’s representative for the second congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives, paid a visit to Wewahitchka and Port St. Joe High Schools on Monday to introduce himself to students and give an overview of the responsibilities to which take him to Washington D.C.
“He’s a man of integrity and he’s one of us,” said executive secretary to the Superintendent Mary Lou Cumbie, as she introduced Southerland in Port St. Joe. “He’s an honest, hardworking man and we consider him a friend of ours.”
Southerland, elected in 2010 and who currently serves 14 counties with more than 700,000 residents, encouraged students to be aware of the issues facing the nation, saying that it’s only by being aware of them that they can be involved.
“Some say that they’re not interested in politics,” said Southerland. “But politics is interested in you.”
After polling the crowd to see which students had visited Washington D.C., Southerland encouraged everyone to visit and while in town, make it a point to see the war memorials.
Southerland explained that one of his priorities is ensuring that veterans are properly taken care of after serving the country. He shared the experience of a recent “Honor Flight” that took veterans who had never visited the Nation’s capital from Tallahassee to Washington where they toured the World War II memorial.
Southerland told the students, who ranged from grades 8-12, that everyone matters and suggested that they become involved in the political process by voting because it would determine the direction of their lives.
Students received a pop quiz on the branches of government, term lengths and prerequisites for each office. He then turned the tables and allowed students to ask him any questions.
“I want to hear for you, the students,” said Southerland. “We can say a lot and we can talk a lot, but we have to listen.”
One student asked Southerland if he had considered going further in his political career, to which Southerland responded that he wasn’t yet sure what the future held.
Another student asked his opinion on the Affordable Care Act.
Southerland said that while he wouldn’t have been elected to the House if not for the bill he said that insurance reform was the answer rather than health reform.
Another student asked his stance on gay marriage, to which Southerland responded that it was an issue that would be solved at the state level.
“Let me by crystal clear though,” said Southerland. “For me, in my house, marriage is between one man and one woman.”
When one student brought up legalization of marijuana, Southerland said that he feared “unintended consequences” could come along with it being legalized for recreational use.
As a licensed funeral director, Southerland explained that he’d seen too many deaths associated with the drug, even though in many cases, the deceased were merely innocent victims from car accidents.
When another student challenged the Congressman to say that liquor was more dangerous that marijuana, Southerland disagreed, saying that the habitual nature of marijuana was much greater than that of alcohol and condemned it for being a gateway drug.
Southerland had traveled to all 14 counties in his district over the past several days and was headed back to Washington for a week later in the day.
“It’s a great privilege to represent you,” said Southerland. “It’s been the greatest privilege of my life.”