As the presidential primaries loom near, candidates from the presidential race continue to come to Keene State College. The speaker who introduces all of the candidates who come here is KSC political science professor Phil Barker.
Barker’s exposure to presidential politics came at a young age. Growing up in Houston, Texas, Barker’s family lived across the street from George H. W. Bush’s personal secretary.
“He didn’t have any family and he’d never been married, so he was kind of part of our family, and he was kind of part of the Bush family,” Barker said. This friendship provided Barker with several unique opportunities.
“As a kid, I got to tour the White House, meet George H. W. Bush and do all these amazing things that most kids don’t get a chance to do and that’s what really started to get me interested in politics,” said Barker. While Bush Sr. is the only president whom Barker has held conversation with, he has also met Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Barker said that Kimberly Schmidl-Gagne does all of the work for organizing political rallies at KSC. Barker coordinated Amy Klobuchar’s visit to a political science class and said that it was a lot of work.
“Kim does all of that and then I just swoop in at the last minute to meet the candidate and welcome them to campus,” said Barker. Barker also added that all of this is coordinated through the American Democracy Project.
Barker said the New Hampshire political experience is completely different from that of any other state.
“I think people who are from New Hampshire might take for granted the opportunity to have a conversation with somebody running for president,” said Barker.
Barker says the most significant people in his life are his wife and son. His wife teaches at an elementary school and his son is a first-year student at Keene High School. A native Texan, Barker graduated from Texas A&M University and attended graduate school at the University of Colorado. He later returned to Texas when his son was born and moved to New Hampshire five years ago.
This is Barker’s fifth year in New Hampshire and teaching at Keene State, but he has been a professor for 15 years. He also started teaching college-level classes while earning his master’s degree.
“I’ve been teaching college-level classes for almost 20 years,” said Barker. In addition to Texas and New Hampshire, Barker has also spent time teaching in Louisiana.
“There are some similarities between New Hampshire and Colorado in terms of geography and climate but also culturally, and I missed that,” said Barker.
One of the most significant people to influence Barker’s life was his advisor in graduate school Dr. Bill Safran. Barker said Safran was a German immigrant and Holocaust survivor who was instrumental in expanding Barker’s worldview.
“He really opened my eyes in terms of understanding international politics and a lot of my passion for understanding the world has to do with Bill Safran,” said Barker.
Schmidl-Gagne and students from Barker’s classes were unavailable for comment.
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