The president of the Save the Children Action Network on getting political juice

This article originally appeared in The Washington Post.

Mark Shriver, 52, is a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates and now serves as president of the Save the Children Action Network, where he lobbies for early-childhood education in the United States and to end preventable deaths of mothers and children around the world. He lives with his wife and three children in Bethesda.

How is America screwing up when it comes to kids?

I just think the investment isn’t as strong as it should be. I’ve spent 20-some odd years listening to politicians tell me how great our work is and essentially patting me on the head. And then when push comes to shove they don’t invest in children. It’s not a priority.

What specifically do you want them to invest in?

On the federal level, in early education, 50 percent of the kids that are eligible for Head Start don’t get the services because they haven’t fully funded it. So kids that are poor are entering kindergarten not prepared to learn. And most of the time those kids don’t ever get up to grade level. So it’s a huge opportunity lost. When you look at it as a social justice issue, it’s the most important issue out there.

What are other countries doing a better job of than we are?

They invest in the first five years of life. China, countries in Europe, they’re investing so that kids are entering kindergarten ready to learn. And we don’t do that, and there’s a direct correlation between kids reading at grade level by the end of third grade and the number of prison beds they’re going to need for the adult population.

So how do you change that here?

We’re actually engaged in elections, and we’re trying to support candidates who are good on the issue. And we’re going to try and defeat those who aren’t. So we want to be the NRA for kids. We want to be a movement, but we want to have political juice as well. Politicians listen to the NRA because they have constituents who are real human beings who vote, and they also have the money to play in the political process. And poor children in the United States and around the world don’t have those resources.

Your dad [Sargent Shriver] was a vice presidential candidate, and two of your uncles [Robert and Edward Kennedy] ran for president, and another was president. What would they think of Donald Trump?

Oh, I have no idea. Look, my uncle ran against Richard Nixon and was friendly with him when they were in Congress. They didn’t agree on everything, and there was healthy disagreement on the ideas, but I don’t think they had the personal venom or would ever degrade the process to the point of calling each other names. Politics is a combat sport, and getting in the trenches and having a healthy debate is good for the country. But if it devolves into name calling and trying to separate us based on fear, I don’t think they would have been favorably disposed to that.