Sean Flynn, the Republican challenger to Representative Pete Aguilar for California’s 31st District of Congress, held a town hall meeting on University of Redlands’ main campus on Oct. 22. Topics discussed included Flynn’s economic expertise and publications, his plans for lowering the cost of healthcare and a solution for the student-loan debt crisis.
Flynn is a professor of economics at Scripps College in Claremont, where he has completed research on the economics of healthcare and behavioral economics and finance. He has spoken on NBC, NPR and Fox News. Flynn is the author of the best-seller Economics For Dummies and a co-author of the leading college economics textbook.
After a brief speech about his background, Flynn turned the microphone over to students and community members for questions.
Flynn was first asked about why a potential voter should trust his word as a candidate for public office, as it’s not uncommon to vote for someone then be disappointed later. Flynn responded that he’s been successful without putting his name on the ballot.
“I’ve got a great job and a great life. . . I’m not a career politician…” Flynn said.
He believes that the best policies haven’t been pursued by career politicians because they aren’t informed. Should he unseat Representative Aguilar, Flynn would become one of two economists in the entirety of the U.S. Congress. According to Flynn, special interest groups and lobbyists unfortunately wield far too much influence in public policy. While lobbyists often have useful information in their fields, as Flynn remarked in a private interview with The Redlands Bulldog, they offer a one-sided, persuasive position.
“We can’t have special interests self-regulating,” said Flynn.
Flynn is running because he thinks he has something to offer: his fresh take on policy and sound knowledge of economics.
“I’m running against someone who was literally a lobbyist before he ran for Congress,” Flynn said, noting Rep. Aguilar’s fast acquisition of campaign funds following his announcement of candidacy.
Regarding mental health issues and rising suicide rates, Flynn said we should be modest about our understanding of psychology, which he called a developing science. He argued that behavioral therapy is a lesser-known but crucial deterrent to suicide, in addition to medication.
Flynn supports “more government research, more funding, [and] more access to information…”
The candidate believes the community would be well-served by more people pursuing careers in social services and therapy. There has been a recent reduction of stigmas around mental health issues, which Flynn has experienced as a professor for young people. Lack of stigma has been a positive part of an otherwise growing problem of mental health.
Flynn was asked about how to minimize the effects of the next recession, hopefully avoiding a reprise of 2008. He discussed the likelihood of many state and local governments going bankrupt because of substantial debt.
“You don’t know the timing of a recession—no one does,” Flynn said.
In Flynn’s opinion, healthcare reform is key to creating room in the budget. Healthcare makes up 18% of the federal government’s budget but should be lowered to 5%. The newly-freed 13% could be used to minimize the next recession, pay down the national debt, and fund programs like social security and medicare. Flynn blames the big pharmaceutical and insurance companies for rigging the system in their favor and preventing reasonable healthcare prices.
Flynn admitted disappointment with how both major parties have handled the healthcare debate. In campaign ads and on his website, he doesn’t explicitly call himself a Republican.
On the subject, Flynn was asked if he would always vote along party lines. His answer: that he’ll vote for whatever’s best for this district.
“I’m in a nice position here that I’m not trying to get a lifetime career politician or lobbyist kind of gig,” Flynn said.
If he voted his conscience and wasn’t re-elected, he would be fine with it, being able to return to his students and a job he loves.
If elected, Flynn would only take a fraction of the salary a Congressman receives. Referencing his privilege of economic status, he would split up what he doesn’t need–an annual $120,000—between several charities.
Flynn spoke on a topic painful to all but the most well-off students: college loans and debt. He referenced the 839,000 Americans over 65 who are still paying off student loans. The high cost of tuition is relatively new to American college students. Anyone over 60 could have worked part-time or in the summer to support themselves in college, a laughable notion today.
“We have made an incredibly immoral and harmful system,” Flynn said.
His plan is to defund the Department of Education’s loan program which allows banks to charge much higher interest rates since they know the government will offer loans to students. College tuition dropped in the ‘60s because the supply rapidly increased, but following the baby boomer generation, classrooms were lucky to be half-full.
“You might wonder why you have three deans, and a provost, and a vice provost,” Flynn said.
According to Flynn, a study showed that since 1978, the number of faculty in the Cal State system increased 4% while administrators increased by 232%.
“The two things I want to fix in Congress are healthcare and the student loans,” Flynn said.
Through reforming the loan system and cutting unnecessary programs and lethargic administrators, Flynn hopes to lower college tuition to a reasonable price. At campuses where paperwork is filled out incorrectly and students can’t take out loans, tuition is 75 percent cheaper, according to Flynn.
Speaking broadly about his initiative, Flynn said: “my version of conservatism isn’t that you keep everything the same or you’re always looking backward only. It’s that you conserve the things that work.”
Photo from seanflynnforcongress.com/photos/