Photos by Jewlz Davis (C’16)
By Fleming Smith
On February 25 in Gailor Auditorium, the Sewanee Republicans and the Sewanee Democrats debated political issues and the current campaigns of both parties. The Student Government Association, the Pre-Law Program, and The Sewanee Purple hosted the event. The participants discussed foreign policy, internal affairs, and the various candidates, and the audience regularly participated, asking questions and entering the debate.
Robert Kerr (C’16), Rachel Chu (C’17), and Will Sogegian (C’17) represented the Sewanee Democrats, while Amir Kamrani (C’18), Abbey Shockley (C’18), and Phillip Sharp (C’17) represented the Sewanee Republicans. John Fisher (C’16) both organized and moderated the event and Lam Ho (C’17) and Robert Beeland (C’18) fact-checked the student panel. “We want to inform students about different candidates’ policies for the upcoming elections. We want all of us to be knowledgeable going into Super Tuesday,” said Jewlz Davis (C’16), SGA president, when he began the event. “We also want to create a conversation that leaves this room.”
The student panel first discussed foreign policy. “I say that the U.S. does have a duty to accommodate refugees, regardless of assumptions made about them as terrorists. If they’re seeking asylum or citizenship, I don’t see why we should discriminate against anyone,” said Chu on the subject of refugees. Kamrani agreed, but added, “Sometimes, a country has security issues with members of what can be a particular race. Therefore we should do more screening… of course, everyone’s against discrimination, but does that dismiss the claim that we could make it harder for some people from Muslim nations? I think that claim has merit.”
Both the College Democrats and the College Republicans agreed that a path to citizenship was the most feasibly way to counter immigration problems. Shockley mentioned that immigration from Mexico had actually decreased over the past year, a fact most political candidates ignored. Sharp noted that the current situation for illegal immigrants could be considered as a human rights violation, and that it was important for their wellbeing and U.S. security to secure the border. “If you want to come to this country, great. By all means, come. But the point is, we have to control the immigration because there are people who want to do us harm,” said Sharp.
However, on the matter of handling the Islamic State, the panel disagreed. “You need to attack the ideology, you have to capture the land that they have,” said Kerr. Sogegian added, “One of the best things the United States can do is to work through the special forces in Iraq and Lebanon to develop ways in which they can combat and further stop the ideology.” Kamrani, however, advocated for heavy carpet bombing in the afflicted areas, noting Ted Cruz as a good candidate who represents this policy.
The debate then moved onto issues of internal affairs, beginning with healthcare. The Sewanee Democrats supported Obama’s Affordable Care Act. “Would you rather have [only] people with this amount of money able to access healthcare, or more people to access healthcare?” Chu asked. “At least people from low-income communities… can have healthcare at all.” College Republicans advocated free-market, competitive pricing. “There are many ways you can regulate healthcare. We regulate every industry under the sun, I think we don’t have to regulate healthcare, too,” argued Sharp.
On the subject of climate change, the panel discussed the recent Paris Agreement, a United Nations accord to mitigate greenhouse gases. College Democrats supported the initiative and stressed the dangers of global warming, but College Republicans found the agreement too restrictive. The conversation quickly moved to the tax code. The College Republicans favored a flat tax rate with tax cuts for business in hopes of stimulating growth while College Democrats urged a progressive tax in order to ease the burden on low-income citizens.
During the debate, Davis orchestrated a short phone poll, showing on the projector screen how many people were voting for each party and candidate. Eleven attendees supported Sanders, then nine for Clinton, eight undecided, five for Rubio, two for Ted Cruz, and one each for Kasich and Trump.
The panel ended the debate by tackling gun control and campaign financing. Perhaps the most important sign of the student panel’s success was that the conversation could have continued long into the night, and only ended because “we only have the space for so long,” joked Davis. As the 2016 campaign for president continues, Sewanee students will keep discussing the issues on and off the stage. Next semester, look for another campus debate as the general election approaches.