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Where every person has a story.

HHS Media

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VA 6th District Congressman Cline speaks to high school government classes

Clare Kirwan
6th District Virginia Congressman Ben Cline visited the outside cafeteria to speak to all levels of government students, Sept. 1, 2023.

In a red polo and dad khakis the 6th district congressman, Ben Cline, walked into the outside cafeteria to speak to students taking government classes, Sept. 1, 2023. When Cline offered to come to HHS the history department jumped on the chance to foster civic engagement within students taking AP, honors and regular level U.S. government classes.

Cline began his talk noting, “I’m a politician, I talk like I breathe,” and stressed the importance of answering the questions the students had. AP government student Claire Sprauge was excited to listen to the conversation and hear students’ questions.

“I’m hoping that we’ll have a respectful environment here where people will be able to ask their questions,” Sprague said.

Cline represents the 6th district, which encompasses the west-central part of the state including the Shenandoah Valley and Roanoke County. In his fifth term he represents over 750,000 Virginia citizens and finds it difficult to talk with all of his constituents.

“I want to answer questions because I have town hall meetings in every county and city that is in the 6th congressional district. There are dozens of high schools, so I don’t get to Harrisonburg High very often. In fact, I think the last time I was here was a couple of years back, it’s good to be back,” Cline said.

Cline was born and raised in Rockbridge County and spent the first years of his career as a lawyer. Now, in his 21st year as a government official, Cline carries a copy of the Constitution with him everywhere he goes. Despite now being a federal representative in Congress, he holds his days in the VA House of Delegates as a state representative very close to his heart.

“The way I approach being a federal representative is different than the way I approach being a state rep. At the end of the day you are accountable to the people, you are there to make policies that are in line with the voters that you represent. In keeping with the functions of government that the Constitution and our founders designed the system for, the way they designed the system was three levels of government, federal, state and local, limited in scope for the federal, limited in scope for the local,” Cline said. “We used to like to say, when I was a state rep, that the states create the localities and the states created the Federal Government. They’re the alpha and the Omega.”

The 10th amendment of the Constitution states “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Cline believes not only in the power of the state government, but that these natural rights were given by God. Though many modern-day historians believe that with no explicit mention of God in the Constitution, rights came from man and the institution of government rather than God.

“The founders believed that your natural rights came from God. And whether it’s your first amendment rights to free speech, your first amendment right to freedom of religion, your second amendment right to protect yourself and your family and your possession. These are fundamental rights that are given to you by God,” Cline said. “How is the government protecting your rights given to you by God? That’s the big question. That’s why the government passes laws. That’s a lot of what we are arguing about today. If your questions are about the different fights that we are having in Congress today, good, that’s appropriate, I want to hear from you guys.”

As he opened the floor up for questions he noted that the 6th district is “A dozen ruby red counties with a dozen sapphire cities within them.” Harrisonburg is one of those sapphire cities, as 64.5% of the city county voted Democratic and just 32.7% Republican in the last presidential election. Cline, a member of the Republican party, recognized that many of the students at HHS may share different viewpoints, and that every time he votes he may not be representing every member of his district.

“You have to read the bills and you have to read the bills in a way that not just you want to read, but in a way that your opposition would read them and put regulations in place that are contrary to your opinion,” Cline said.

Cline began by answering questions on monopolies, inflation, free trading and the current drug crisis regarding fentanyl poisoning. Some students asked questions that related to their personal experiences. Senior Abel Rodriguez, a diabetic, asked Cline about his decision to vote against a bill to increase the production of insulin.

“[The bill] is going to limit the number of people who want to go into the business of production of insulin,” Cline said. “I’ve generally not supported price controls because when you control the price you end up limiting innovation, eliminating production, limiting, overall, accessibility.”

Senior Solomon Evans, a biracial student, questioned Cline on his reasoning for not supporting the provisioning of the bill Respect for America, which provides statutory authority for same sex and interracial marriage, according to Evans.

“I don’t think the bill should have anything to do with interracial marriage. Loving vs. Virginia is a Supreme Court decision that should be lifted up and celebrated, not included in what is essentially a debate about the definition of marriage. Personally, I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Many of you may disagree with that, the Supreme court disagrees with that,” Cline said.

He went on to discuss transgender rights, the Supreme Court’s decision to leave abortion bans in the hands of the states, the war in Ukraine and the consolidation of housing with students. He also discussed illegal immigration and whether or not he supports deporting undocumented immigrants in Harrisonburg.

“It’s a difficult situation. We want to make sure every student feels welcome at Harrisonburg High and in the Harrisonburg community. But the laws that we have can’t be dodged for some reasons and followed for others,” Cline said. “We have to do more to restore our border integrity and at that point you can have a conversation about what changes to legal laws are appropriate for the 21st century.”

There are many reforms and bills that Cline believes should be discussed on the Congressional floor. However, according to Cline, only one percent of bills put forth in Congress are voted on, the other 99% are never heard. 

“There are a lot of reforms I would like to see that resemble what Virginia does. Virginia’s been around a lot longer than the United States and Virginia’s General Assembly has been around a lot longer than the Congress with the House of Burgesses. Virginia gets it right more often than Congress,” Cline said.

With one year remaining in his third term, Cline is focused on watching the presidential primary and local elections. He encouraged any seniors who can vote in the next election to stay up to date on the candidates policies and the current government happenings.

“I turned 18 a long time ago and I still remember the first time I got to vote. It was a profound moment and one that you should take seriously,” Cline said. “You should research the issues, talk to the candidates. Talk to people on both sides because at the end of the day, you are expressing your views on who should leave your state government and so it makes it all the more important that you know where you stand.”

*Originally published Sept. 29, 2023 through print

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