Students at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin STEM Academy got a glimpse of U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway as a person Monday when he talked to them about his background and took questions.
Conaway, R-Midland, faces a challenge from fellow Midland Republican Paul Myers and Democrats Eric Pfalzgraf of Odessa and Jennie Lou Leeder of Llano. Odessa Libertarian Nicholas Landholt, 62, who got 23,677 votes or 10 percent of the total cast in November 2016, is campaigning for his party’s nomination at its state convention April 13-15 in Houston.
In office since 2004, Conaway chairs the House Agriculture Committee and is leading the House investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Conaway’s 11th Congressional District covers 29 counties from Odessa-Midland to Lamesa, San Angelo, Brownwood and Granbury. The primaries are March 6 and the general election Nov. 6.
Conaway spoke to eighth and ninth graders at STEM directly, while sixth and seventh graders watched the exchange via livestream. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
When thinking about leaders they gravitate toward, Conaway said those leaders keep their word, they’re honest, they care about you and they do a good job at whatever they are doing, even if it’s picking up trash. They also show up when they say they will and take on jobs no one else wants and do a good job at it.
Conaway said the more often those habits are replicated, the more likely people are to trust you.
He said God has a perfect plan for the students’ lives and they must follow that plan. Conaway added that the youngsters were going to face some adult decisions soon and will have to plan ahead how they are going to react.
Conaway said the students in the multipurpose room at the STEM Academy could be scientists, president of the school board, president of the United States, or a teacher that has a student in their class that becomes president.
Asked about the difference between Republicans and Democrats, Conaway said it’s inaccurate to ascribe certain views to one party or the other. Some Democrats are pro-life, for example.
But both parties will have a platform. He said he doesn’t agree with everything in the GOP platform and he knows Democrats who don’t agree with everything in their platform, so students should take the issues and decide which party fits their views best.
As for a border wall and border security, Conway said they come under one umbrella, but different sections of the border should be treated differently. For example, urban areas need physical barriers and areas like the Big Bend could have overhead cameras.
He said it’s in the best interest of the country to know who and what is coming over the border.
The best part of his job in Congress, Conaway said, is working for the people. He added that the people who work with him help make people’s lives a little easier and it’s gratifying when people tell him he was able to help them.
When he’s facing a tough issue, Conaway said he prays first. Most of what he has to decide on is not black or white, but gray, so he prays for wisdom and discernment.
He added that one of the events that had the most impact on him was after the Fort Hood shooting when he watched 13 flag-draped coffins being placed in the belly of a C-17 transport plane.
Conaway said he also has had the chance to go places and meet people he wouldn’t have normally.
Conaway said he tries to talk to youngsters as often as possible.
“… You get in front of these kids and you see the future. I know that’s trite and everybody says it, but the truth of the matter is it is the truth. These kids are kind of a cut above others because they’ve made some decisions. They specifically want to study engineering, or computer science, or biomedical fields. They’ve already aspired to a pretty high level of educational attainment. … It’s terrific to talk to them because, as I told the kids, when they become adults when they get into these leaderships roles … the world that they will inherit will be more complicated than the one I grew up in and more complicated than the one we currently exist in,” Conaway said.
“The one we exist in is pretty darn complicated,” he added.
Conaway had his brother Larry, a Vietnam veteran, in the audience Monday and got emotional talking about him.
He said his brother answered his country’s call and went halfway around the world to do his duty. Conaway said the soldiers who returned from Vietnam should have been treated with respect and dignity.
Today, Conaway said, the country has learned from that experience and dealt with returning soldiers much better.
In talking about his race for re-election to Congress, Conaway said he’s doing what he needs to for another two-year term.
“I was recognized by one of the publications in Washington as giving the second-most town halls in the country. I do two public events every year in all 29 counties and I do more than that in other counties,” Conaway said.
The one who conducts the most town hall meetings is U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc.
Asked about what should be done about the recent school shootings and mass shootings, Conaway said it’s up to the local school systems, parents and governments to make their buildings safe.
“Trying to get in front of a person who has decided to do something like (referring to the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting), that is much more daunting issue. … How do you do that in ways that don’t stigmatize people who may exhibit something that you’re worried about, but would never do something like this fellow in Florida did? It’s been a very difficult walk on how you get in front of it,” Conaway said.
“Guns are not necessarily the issue. It could be any kind of a tool that could hurt somebody. He could have gotten in a car and driven through campus. This person made a decision to go into the school and hurt his colleagues, people he probably went to school with,” Conaway added.
Eighth-grader Blayr Reinke, 13, and Makaleigh Niemann, a 14-year-old ninth-grader, said they were pleased with Conaway’s visit.
“It was an experience that’s never happened to me at one of my schools,” Reinke said. “It was just nice to talk to with someone and meet someone with that background …”
Niemann said she thought it was neat that Conaway acted like a normal person with pretty much the same views she has.
She added that she liked that Conaway stands up for his constituents in Washington and takes them into consideration.