If there’s anyone that understands the importance of a vote, it’s Brian Schatz.

He won his first election by a mere 458 votes. After then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie selected him as the replacement of long-time senator Daniel Inouye in 2012, he won a 2014 special election by 1,782 votes, which was the smallest margin of victory in any national election that year.

Schatz, currently a U.S. Senator from Hawaii, spoke about the importance of voter engagement to the KCC community on Friday, Oct. 21, in the Lama Library to a crowd of about 50 students, faculty and staff.

“It’s not just about casting your ballot … I believe that’s the minimum,” he said. “It’s also about getting involved in campaigns. I want you to think of democracy as a participatory endeavor.”

Guest at Schatz event asks about dissatisfaction of younger generation towards politics (Photo by Kayla Valera)

A guest at Brian Schatz event asks about dissatisfaction of the younger generation toward politics. (Photo by Kayla Valera)

Before being elected to public office, Schatz found himself working on conservation policy for an environmental not-for-profit. This role brought him into contact with the state legislature on occasion. Schatz, who was 25 at the time, was encouraged to run for public office. He then started his own campaign for the 24th District of the Hawai‘i House of Representatives.

Given advice by former judge Russell Blair to invest in suitable shoes – Rockport’s became the preferred choice – Schatz set out by foot to garner support in the neighborhoods of the 24th District. The hilly neighborhood of Tantulus was in his district, so Schatz quickly learned the hard way and mentioned that “you [really] should get a ride to the top and walk down.”

During his hour-long talk, Schatz elucidated about policy challenges he and others in the Democratic Party are prepared to tackle after the election, a list that includes public infrastructure, climate change, and immigration reform.

Time was reserved at the conclusion of Schatz’s presentation for questions from the audience. Questions ranged from topics on sustainability and climate change to “what defines a good leader?”

Schatz also weighed in on the importance of this year’s presidential election.

He stated that Republican nominee Donald Trump is running a campaign that lacks the “basic standards of decency that nearly every candidate of the presidency has met in our whole history.” Of note were Trump’s comments about locking his political opponent in jail, suppressing the free press, and his whimsical understanding of trade agreements as good or bad “deals.”  

Schatz called Republican nominee Donald Trump “uniquely dangerous” and made an impassioned argument for electing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. 

“As a Jew, as a person who studies history, I take people like that very seriously and I take them at their word,” he said of Trump.

Schatz came to KCC at the invitation of Phi Theta Kappa, the campus honor society that, as a part of its Honors in Action topic: “How the World Works: Global Perspectives,” has been tackling voter engagement in today’s society. The group held voter registration drives on campus earlier this semester, and recently reached out to all local politicians to come talk to KCC. According to faculty advisor Julie Rancilio, Schatz responded to their email about a week ago.

Schatz, who rolled to an easy win in the primary, will likely win his re-election bid against Republican John Carroll on Nov. 8.