Pitt Dems kick off the year with visit from Rep. Lamb


Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

Congressman Conor Lamb spoke at the first meeting of Pitt Democrats on Tuesday night.

By Benjamin Nigrosh, For The Pitt News

Before Rep. Conor Lamb began his formal speech at the first Pitt College Democrats meeting of the year on Tuesday evening, he grabbed the microphone from the podium and faced the students to ask one question.

“Why men great ‘til they got to be great?” he said.

With that quote — borrowed from a song by popular artist Lizzo — Lamb lit up the room in the William Pitt Union Ballroom A with laughter. The former federal prosecutor and U.S. Marine came to campus in an event organized by the Pitt College Democrats on Tuesday night.

Within the first moments of his speech, Conor Lamb, U.S. representative for Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional district, detailed a few of his recent exploits in trying to become more in touch with the times.

“If anyone wants an internship,” Lamb said, “If you can design a whole speech around that question, we may have the key to 2020 right there.”

Grace Dubois, president of the Pitt Democrats and former intern in Lamb’s office, played a key role in bringing the congressman to campus.

“We want to get students engaged in politics, and we’ve found that this is the best way to do that,” Dubois, a junior political science and economics major, said.

Dubois said she was excited to have the congressman on campus speaking to students. She said it is difficult for young people to become inspired to take action in politics when politicians are seen as unreachable figures. But when students are able to interact with those that are going to control the policies that affect their lives, she said, change will happen.

“We are the future. We don’t have any sense of what we want from our politicians or what we want from our future,” Dubois said. “We need to be able to have those conversations.”

Lamb said in his speech that it is important to him to meet with young people in the hopes that he could inspire them to take political action into their own hands.

“I don’t want to pass up any opportunity to speak to students about politics,” Lamb said. “I think it’s going to be really important for young people to be involved in 2020. I’d like to tell them about what I’ve experienced in the past two years, but also hear from them about what they need.”

Lamb spent most of his time speaking generating a call to action for young people to become more politically active.

“We need to get inside of people’s hearts, not just their minds,” Lamb said. “Unfortunately, we are never going to have as much money as the other side. We are never going to have something equivalent to the echochamber of Fox News, we are just going to have to go on Fox News and make these arguments.”

According to the Pitt College Democrats Vice President Sophia Constantine, a junior urban studies major, the more knowledgeable the community can be, the more change that it can affect.

“It’s important for politicians to come [to college campuses] so that students can learn more about civics,” Constantine said

Following his speech, Lamb opened up the floor to receive questions from the crowd. Their questions ranged a wide variety of topics, from the legalization of marijuana and background checks for purchasing guns to his favorite pizza restaurant in the Pittsburgh area — decidedly, Mineo’s.

To the question of which Democratic candidate on the presidential ballot would get Lamb’s vote, the rep responded that he would vote for former Vice President Joe Biden.

One student asked if Lamb would support a federal assault weapons ban, to which Lamb responded in the negative.

Lamb proceeded to detail a bill that he supported which would increase the effectiveness of criminal background checks. He cited that recent mass shootings, such as the one that took place in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, could have been prevented from more in-depth background checks.

“The FBI and the police have three days from that moment to determine what happened with that ambiguous criminal record,” Lamb said. “They are way too backlogged to solve those cases … Our bill would change that from three days to ten days. And if the FBI asks for it, they can get another ten days.”

Another student asked Lamb to comment on the present state of the criminal justice system.

“There is a lot we need to do on sentencing,” Lamb said. “Too many sentences are too long, especially for people that get characterized as repeat offenders.”

Lamb said that there needs to be harsher sentencing for what he called “the worst offenders,” — specifically those who commit violent crimes. He said that it is more difficult to create cases on these criminals, and easier to make cases on other crimes, such as drug crimes, and so there is an imbalance in how these crimes are processed.

After giving students the time to ask about his stance on present political and social issues, Lamb brought his ideas back to his opening speech — the power of young people to affect these changes in policy. He gave a final note to drive home the fact that each person listening to him has the ability to create the changes that they want to see.

“You need to vote,” he said.