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MANCHESTER, N.H. — Lyndsay Johnson got up at 5 a.m. Monday to be first in line to see Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan at their town hall event at St. Anselm College. She made it near the front of the crowd by 8 a.m. But she still didn’t expect to be chosen when she raised her hand soon into the question-and-answer session.”It was so random,” Johnson said after the event. “I didn’t go in with a question planned. I just raised my hand and somehow, they picked on me.”
Johnson was one of the eight people chosen of more than 3,000 at St. Anselm to ask Romney and Ryan a question, which ranged from areas of foreign policy to auditing the federal reserve. She came up with her question on the fly, on a topic ended up being most relevant to her interests: Student loans and debt.
She was a little stunned when someone handed her the microphone. Romney, eyeing his next questioner, pointed out her shirt.
“What does that say?” Romney asked. “‘Vote free or die.’ Hmm.”
Johnson explained her situation, which she later relayed in an interview. She is a 20-year-old junior at St. Anselm who had to take out her first loan this school year. She has estimated that for this semester alone, she won’t be able to fully repay the loan until 2019. And she still has three more semesters beyond this one. And she wants to go to law school.
In July, Obama signed into law an extension of low federal student loan rates after both parties bickered in Congress about lengthening the rates. The law held interest rates at the current 3.4 per cent rate, keeping it from doubling to 6.8 per cent in July.
“So my question to you,” she said to Romney and Ryan, “is what are you going to do for the students of this campus, this state and this wonderful country with their debt? And what are you going to do to help my generation become this country’s future?”
Romney took the opportunity to hit President Barack Obama for a couple of issues — for the piling-up national debt and for general youth unemployment. He said that he would first help Johnson “get a job” — youth unemployment remained at 16.4 per cent in July — and he pledged to not add to the debt.
“I’m not going to tell you something that’s not the truth, because, you know what?” Romney said. “That’s just taking money from your other pocket and giving it to the other pockets.
“I’m not going to promise all sorts of free stuff that I know you’re going to end up paying for. What I want to do is give you a great job so you’ll be able to pay it back yourself. And I want to get the government off your back so you can keep more of what you earned.”Johnson, who already was a leaning Romney supporter heading into Monday’s event, said she was satisfied with Romney’s answer, which admittedly lacked specifics with regards to student loans. But she said Ryan’s follow-up impressed her more.
Ryan talked about tuition inflation, which has doubled the standard inflation rate in recent years.
“What we are spending on the right hand, we have to make sure it is not fueling more inflation on the left hand,” Ryan said. “We have to make sure your education dollars stretch farther than they have in the past.”
The buzzwords for Johnson were the promises of no added debt and jobs. But she added that she would have liked to have seen more policy specifics from both the Republican ticket and from Obama.
“It’s a big issue moving forward for students,” she said. “It will at least somewhat determine how all of them are going to vote.”
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