As he looked out at the rows of seated Sharon High School students before him on Wednesday, Congressman Mike Kelly told them they have an image to uphold.
“When people see you they think you are Sharon High School,” Kelly said. “You are Sharon High School.”
Kelly, 64, a Republican car dealer from Butler, relied on his business background at times to teach the students a few lessons in civics.
In a talk part motivational and part pre-commencement speech, he told students to prepare for their lives after graduation.
He urged them to become a part of their community — to make it a better place.
“We’re asking you to be totally involved,” Kelly said. “We’re asking you to make a difference.”
That involvement can come in the form of belonging to social organizations or churches or making government at all levels better. Those are part of the ideals that has made the U.S. a great nation, he said.
“Being an American is not an option,” Kelly told them. “You have to be part of the community. You can’t just walk away from it.”
At times that may mean taking up the fight, he said. When General Motors Corp. began downsizing its dealerships four years ago, Kelly was initially told his GM dealership would have the Cadillac nameplate taken away as part of the government bailout package for the company.
After engaging in an extensive arbitration battle, Kelly won the Cadillac name back.
“Sometimes there are fights you have to fight because it isn’t an option,” Kelly said. “A decision was made on my future — not on my ability for a business.”
A couple students questioned the 3rd District Congressman on spending cuts for education.
“It’s not that we’re not spending enough money,” he said. “Maybe what we’re getting back for our money isn’t what it should be.”
One student asked Kelly on why he chose politics for a career.
“I’m not a career politician. I’m a car dealer,” Kelly responded.
Another asked why a recent letter he sent to the congressman had not gotten a response.
Kelly apologized and said all letters and e-mails sent to his office are read by his staff. A problem with physical letters, Kelly said, is they must go through a security check which can take six to eight weeks before being received by a representative.
“That’s why I always tell people to send an e-mail,” Kelly said.
In a brief interview after his talk, Kelly said the hot button issue of late in the 3rd District is gun control.
The Obama administration has proposed broader background checks for gun buyers and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines — both of which are opposed by the National Rifle Association. The proposals are coming under fierce debate across the country in the aftermath of the December slayings of 20 first-graders and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.
A second amendment supporter, Kelly said no firm legislation is in hand for him to comment on.
When asked about his views on gay marriages, Kelly said it was the first time anybody in the district had asked him that question. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a pair of cases that could dramatically change the legal landscape for marriage.
While saying he always thought marriage should be between a man and woman, he doesn’t have a problem with a different view. “I don’t care about a person’s sexual orientation,” he said.
Higher gas prices is also on the minds of many in the area, along with higher food prices.
“People in communities like this are really concerned about where food prices are headed,” Kelly said.
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