The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Former congressmen visit campus

William Enyart (left) represented Southern Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives for two years. Gil Gutknecht (right) served as a representative for Minnesota in the U.S. House of Representatives for 12 years.

Former congressmen William Enyart and Gil Gutknecht visited the UNI campus on Tuesday, Oct. 24 as part of the Congress to Campus program. Enyart has been participating in the program for about eight years, while Gutknecht has participated for 10. 

Enyart, a former general, served as Southern Illinois’ United States Congressman in the 113th Congress. He served on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Agriculture Committee. His nearly 36-year military career included active duty service in the US Air Force and nearly thirty years in the Army National Guard. In his role as Adjunct General of the Illinois National Guard, he oversaw the largest Illinois National Guard deployment of troops overseas since WWII when the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team deployed to Afghanistan. As a Colonel, he commanded the Illinois National Guard to Kyiv, Ukraine participating in exercises with twenty-two nations. Enyart also participated in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations at the UN in New York City and was a keynote speaker at the UN Peacekeeping Operations seminar in Chicago. He retired from Congress in January 2015. A graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, the former congressman spoke on his motivation for participating in the program. 

“I really, really enjoy speaking to students. I enjoy taking their questions and seeing what it is that they want to learn, and trying to answer some pretty hard questions, and trying to correct a lot of misconceptions that people have about Congress; about how it works, about the entire way our system works,” he said. 

Enyart has visited 15 college campuses so far, and his next visit is in two weeks to Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana. The other visitor, Gutknecht, has visited 26campuses across the country, from Portland, Oregon to central Florida. 

Gutknecht served 12years in the Minnesota House of Representatives before serving 12years in the U.S. House. He served as Vice Chair of the House Science Committee where he was involved with federal research into new technologies. As Chairman of an Agriculture Subcommittee, he oversaw renewable energy programs. He chaired the Congressional Study Group on Germany that met regularly with top German political and business leaders. During his tenure on the House Budget Committee, the federal budget was balanced and nearly half a trillion dollars worth of federal debt was paid down. He lost his Congressional seat in 2006 to Democratic challenger Tim Walz. A graduate of the class of 1973, Gutknecht spoke fondly of the opportunities UNI offers. 

“Compared to some of the private schools, I just get the feeling that the students here appreciate the education that they received here, even more than some of the schools where the tuition is 55 or 60,000,” he said. “And I think that’s a good thing. I think that the education that students receive here is excellent. I’m always impressed. I’ve been very impressed with the quality of instructors, just the quality of the university in general. I think it’s a much better school than when I was here.” 

Gultknecht additionally praised college students for their interest in current events. “They’re engaged not only with the subject matter of courses, but in current events, public affairs. Particularly here in ROTC, they know what’s going on in Ukraine. They know what’s going on in other parts of the world. I mean, the students today are much more plugged in, and frankly, much more informed than the average citizen.” 

Enyart spoke about the campus in a more general sense.

 “Cedar Falls, it’s a great town and the university is great. And, you know, I have always found, every campus I’ve done, typically good students, students who are interested, students who want to learn,” he said.

He also offered advice to young people who want to go into politics. “Volunteering, if you’re interested in electoral politics, find your local state legislator, find your local city councilman. They’re always looking for help. They always need help. And quite easily, you go in and do a good job, the first thing you know you’ll be hired as a district aide, or district assistant, or campaign aide on a paid basis. If you’re more interested in working more on policy, there are always internships in D.C. or in the State Capitol.” 

Gultknecht echoed similar advice. 

“The most important thing people can do is volunteer. If you read Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America”, our great democracy is built on this sense of volunteerism where citizens stand up and help solve problems locally. And if they can’t solve them there, they turn to the states. So what we want to do is help build that idea that the most important three words in our democratic dictionary are the first three, ‘We the people’.” 

The former congressmen also stated their concerns about the current state of congress. Enyart pointed to the media as a culprit for the political divide. 

“A lot of what I can say about the state of Congress today is that the debate, or at least the public debate, is being driven, and it’s being driven by Fox News or MSNBC or whatever, you know, who only voice one set of sound bites, and we don’t have people talking to each other. We have people sending talking points. There are serious policy issues that need serious discussion that need a serious resolution. Whether you’re talking about budget deficits, or you’re talking about what should the level of taxation be, how much should we be investing in spending, or what we should do to resolve what really is a crisis in healthcare,” he explained.

Gutknecht voiced the idea that the media is not only divisive, but deceptive. 

“Voters are being cheated in some respects because they don’t expect members of Congress to have all the answers. But the way the talking points work, it sounds like they have all the answers. What they really want is elected officials to ask the right questions, ” he said.

At present, Gutknecht is a frequent contributor on call-in talk shows, discussing issues plaguing his party. He is also an accomplished Auctioneer, and he uses these skills to give back to the community. He has helped raise over $2 million dollars for charities ranging from 4H and the Boy Scouts to cancer research. He lives in Minnesota with his wife, Mary, whom he met at UNI. They have three grown children and four grandchildren. 

Enyart currently hosts a podcast on his personal website. He frequently speaks on current events, veterans’ issues, and defense policy. He is married to retired Judge Annette Eckert who is the director of the St. Clair County Teen Court. They have two sons, Dr. James Enyart, a biology professor at Southwestern Illinois College and Alex Enyart, an attorney in private practice. 

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Northern Iowan Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *