TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV)– The 2023 election is now in the rear view mirror– but politics were still at the forefront of the minds for dozens of Indiana State students Wednesday, as they got to listen to two former U.S. Congressmen speak. 

Bill Enyart, a democrat from Illinois who was in office from 2012-2014, and Chris Shays, a Connecticut Republican who served for more than two decades from 1987-2009, made up the bipartisan panel. They discussed their careers and their thoughts on the current state of government in Washington. 

Shays said he looks forward to opportunities to speak with the younger generation– one he feels has to bear for mistakes made over past decades.

“We’ve left our children a $33 trillion debt. That’s trillion dollars, not billions, not millions, trillion,” he said. “That means that we got to enjoy the expenses, but you have to pay the bill. And we need to turn that around.”

The congressmen agreed that polarization is one of the biggest issues on Capitol Hill. Enyart mentioned politicians who he called “showhorses,” or those whose main motivation is to further their careers.

“You can figure out who the showhorses today are, it’s pretty obvious,” he said. “Just turn on cable news and you’ll see them there talking away and taking very controversial positions or throwing meat to their base, whatever color their base is, red or blue. That hasn’t changed a whole lot.”

Shays said he thought that was something that has worsened since he first took office.

“The bottom line is when I was first elected, it was family first, country second and party third. Now, it’s family first still, I think, party second and country third or last, and that’s very destructive,” he said. 

Both welcomed the opportunity to take part in the “Congress to Campus” program, which helps facilitate opportunities like this. It was co-sponsored by the ISU Department of Political Science with the American Democracy Project.

Enyart– a Southern Illinois graduate– enjoyed the opportunity to visit the campus of a former college rival, and said he hopes those in attendance left with a better understanding of how government works.

“I love the interaction with the students and I love being able to impart some of my experiences to young people,” he said. “I wish I had that opportunity when I was a student, whether in college or as a graduate student. I think it’s very important that these students have a better understanding of how our government actually works.”