By Dan Novak
The College Republicans and Democrats of this university addressed several divisive topics Thursday during their State Issues Debate, with the midterm election less than two weeks away.
Co-sponsored by Maryland Discourse and Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society (PLUMAS), the hour and twenty minute debate touched on the six different policy issues of education, environment, criminal justice, immigration, healthcare and transportation. In front of a crowd of about 100, three pairs of debaters from each party took turns on the stage debating two of the topics each.
Maryland Discourse President Ireland Lesley, a junior government and politics major, moderated the debate, in which the College Republicans defended Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) first term while the College Democrats tried to tie him to President Donald Trump’s administration and Republicans in Washington.
“I sit here unwilling to allow our state to be further damaged by the hateful rhetoric of the Trump administration and our state’s leaders who sympathize with his divisive policies,” said Sydney Poretsky, a senior communications and Spanish literature major who delivered the Democrats’ opening remarks.
Dylan Housman, a junior government and politics and business management major, said the Hogan administration “is focused on state issues rather than getting dragged into the fractured mess that currently exists at the federal level of our national politics.”
Gov. Hogan, who frequently touts his high approval ratings, has tried to distance himself from many of Trump’s policies throughout his term as governor in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1. In a University of Maryland/Washington Post poll released Oct. 9, Hogan led Democratic challenger Ben Jealous by 20 points in the upcoming election.
The debate grew especially heated when the parties discussed redistricting. Maryland is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation, according to a 2014 Washington Post study.
“You shouldn’t have to rig elections in order to win them,” College Republican Hunter Petit said. “Gov. Hogan has been a leader on this front, and I believe Maryland should be a leader on this front as well.”
Maryland’s poor reputation on redistricting is considered an embarrassment for some voters, even those who are left-leaning. “Gerrymandering is something that Democrats are very weak on in Maryland, and I was interested in hearing what they would say about it,” said junior computer science major Josh Blume, an attendee and registered Democrat.
Sophomore biochemistry and economics major David Polefrone defended Democrats on the redistricting issue by pointing to a Democrat-sponsored bill that Hogan vetoed in March 2017 which would have created a nonpartisan redistricting commission only when five other nearby states did the same.
“It’s clear to see that Hogan doesn’t care about these other states, he doesn’t care about the national climate. He wants this independent nonpartisan redistricting commission to get his own team up a couple more points,” Polefrone said.
“We should not be a state that follows people,” Petit replied. “We should be a state that leads. And we should lead nonpartisan redistricting reform and not wait for anyone else.”
The discussion moved to health care, a signature topic of Jealous who advocates for a Medicare-for-all system in the state. The College Republicans called his plan “socialized medicine” that would cost the state too much in taxpayer dollars.
“They’re not acknowledging at all how much you would save on your health insurance premiums,” Democratic senior finance and government and politics major Chris Richter said.
The debaters also sparred over the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, which requires certain employers to offer sick leave to their workers. The General Assembly overrode Hogan’s veto of the bill in January.
“Can you tell me why I should get paid sick leave if I’m working at McDonalds?” asked College Republican Justin Coury.
“Because you’re a human being and you have rights,” responded junior government and politics major and College Democrat William O’Malley, to thunderous applause.
Some students said that while the debate may not have necessarily swayed their votes, the discussion provided a clearer picture of the issues and where the parties and candidates stand.
“I’m pretty liberal,” junior dance and individual studies major Sarah Budlow said, “but I wanted to hear what other people are doing on the other side of the spectrum. It made me feel a little more informed.”