Mark Kelly speaks to ASU students in town hall

The Democratic U.S. Senate candidate discussed issues impacting students during an event hosted by USGT

U.S. Senate candidate and former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly talked about student debt, COVID-19 and the economy at a town hall meeting hosted by Undergraduate Student Government Tempe over Zoom on Wednesday.  

Kelly is running as the Democratic candidate against Republican incumbent Sen. Martha McSally leading up to the general election on Nov. 3. 

Kajol Kapadia, the vice president of policy for USGT and senior studying economics who spearheaded the event, expressed the importance of students getting to know and feeling more connected to the candidates who are running. 

"We wanted to make sure that students have the opportunity to directly engage with the people that are running to represent them," Kapadia said in an interview before the event. 

Questions asked to Kelly were submitted by students earlier in the week and focused on issues pertaining to college-aged people. 

"(The ASU town hall) shifts the policy stances and allows (the candidates) to be more focused on what students actually care about, rather than the general public," Kapadia said. 

Addressing the present

Kelly started the town hall with a monologue about his platform and background, and he talked about his daughter who graduated from ASU last December before diving into policy regarding COVID-19. 

Kelly criticized the federal government's actions during COVID-19 and discussed how his past in STEM would help him in Congress. 

"Over and over again, we have been a step behind because leaders in Washington, D.C. have been too focused on politics and not on public health," Kelly said. "I feel that what we need is some independent leadership — leadership that will make decisions based on science and data and facts." 

Shakki Bhat, a junior studying global politics and supply chain management, said he appreciated Kelly's leadership approach to addressing the pandemic.

"I liked how he went down the approach of looking at COVID-19 through the lens of 'how do we improve for the future and be better than we previously were,' rather than going back to the way things were," Bhat said. 

Kelly talked about the implications of Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court and what her appointment could mean for the future of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. 

"I've met a lot of parents that have kids with serious health conditions, where without the Affordable Care Act, then they don't have options to provide the care that their child needs to survive," Kelly said. 

According to Kelly, this would also generally impact young people, as repealing the ACA would no longer allow them to stay on their parent's health care until they turn 26.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit regarding the ACA on Nov. 10.

Investing in the future

In terms of student loans, Kelly said it is crucial for Congress to reduce debt, specifically by lowering interest rates.

"A lot of students are having to pay too much in interest," Kelly said. "The federal government shouldn't be making money off of the backs of college students." 

Kelly also talked about re-investing in Federal Pell Grants, which he says have had large cuts.

"That's not an investment in our future," Kelly said. "Any time we can invest in education, that's an investment in the future of our country."

While asking questions posed by students, Kapadia said the two most frequent themes were regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and climate change.

Kelly, the son of two cops, said of the criminal justice and policing system that "if you're not changing it, it's getting worse," and "we could always look for positive change." 

He emphasized the need for reform through body cameras, along with independent investigations and oversight. 

In response to climate action, Kelly talked about protecting the Earth.

"We're all not moving to Mars one day," Kelly said. "We have to do a better job taking care of this planet."

Kelly said he supports the economic opportunities Arizona has with renewable energy. 

"We got a lot of sunshine, we can create a lot of renewable energy here through solar," Kelly said. 

Daniel Laufer, a senior studying urban planning, said he saw Kelly "as that refreshing middle-of-the-road candidate who wants to change up how things are done."

Laufer, who said he is a registered Republican, decided he is supporting Kelly this election and, in fact, has already voted by mail. 

"The transparency behind the candidate and his kind of goals aligned with my values," Laufer said.

According to an Instagram post from USGT, a town hall with McSally is in the works.

Kelly said what ultimately inspired him to run was how he is a "lifelong public servant." 

"This is a challenging thing we're going through for our country, I'll admit it," Kelly said in closing. "But we're going to figure it out." 


Reach the reporter at mcfisch4@asu.edu and follow @morgfisch on Twitter. 

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