ASU students press Sen. Jeff Flake on education and science at a town hall

Sen. Flake and other Arizona leaders held various town halls this week

ASU students were among the many who put pressure on Sen. Jeff Flake at his Mesa town hall Thursday night.

Students from ASU vocalized their concerns over Flake's performance in Washington, including his advocacy to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, his vote to confirm Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and his push to limit funding for science research projects. 

John Morgan Christoph, a Ph.D candidate at ASU in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, asked Flake if he would “oppose the budget cuts, attacks on scientist by his colleges and put more rigor into this 'Wastebook' process."

The Wastebook is an annual report that details what Flake believes to be wasteful federal spending. According to Flake's website, some of the studies in the 2017 Wastebook included $817,000 to study monkey drool, $3.4 million for hamster cage fight matches and $300,000 to study if girls or boys spend more time playing with Barbie dolls. 

According to Christoph the point of scientific research is “not to do something useful, but to explore things we don’t know, hoping that what we learn from it proves useful.”

Christoph called the Wastebook process “cherry-picking” which reduces the studies to “facile absurdities.”

Arizona students and educators, including high school and elementary teachers, took turns voicing their disappointment about Flake's vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education. 

Ryan Cloughley, a political science junior who spoke at the event, felt that Flake’s vote to confirm Betsey DeVos for the Department of Education was “very concerning.”

Before the town hall, Flake said he wasn’t aware of the student loan protections that were recently rolled back by DeVos and wasn’t prepared to comment on the state of university funding in Arizona.

When asked if he would support a federal program that would help unemployed graduates defer their student loans, Flake said he would have to see the proposal first.

“Any program like that has to be weighted against out current debt and deficit because we would be borrowing money from American’s to make it easier for some American’s to pay back loans," Flake told The State Press. “I am very skeptical of new programs that simply borrow more, to pay people more on their borrowing.”

The junior senator stood firm amidst roaring boos, chants and screams Thursday night from the passionate crowd. Flake appeared unshaken as the crowd repeatedly yelled, “You lie," and, “Shame on you."  

Attendees waved red and green pieces of paper to indicate a perceived lie, or truth from Flake. 

Despite the mounting tension, Flake stayed on stage for over two hours and continued to take questions from voters after leaving the stage. 

“I appreciate the fact that the senator stayed beyond the 8:30 deadline because a lot of Republicans, and possibly several Democrats, including Arizona Democrats would have cut it off earlier," Alex Baker, an ASU business data analytics sophomore, said.

Baker asked Flake that if FBI Director James Comey and Sens. Richard Burr and Elizabeth Warren recommend impeachment following the investigation into President Donald Trump’s possible ties to Russia, would he “put country over party, and vote 'yes.'"

“No one is above the law, not even the president," Flake said. 

Editor's note: Ryan Cloughley formerly worked for The State Press. He was not involved with the production of this article. 

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