By Seth Eckman
Put a Democrat and a Republican in the same room and things can get a little heated, especially in today’s polarized political landscape. Things were a little different, however, on Thursday Nov. 24, when a relatively civil debate between Millersville University’s College Democrats and College Republicans was held in the Ford Atrium in McComsey Hall on Millersville University’s campus in front of about 70 people. Both groups offered their competing visions on three issues: abortion, welfare, and immigration. Appropriately, the Democrats sat at a table on the left and the Republicans sat at a table on the right. Moderator Adam Lawrence stood between them, posing questions and making sure the debaters didn’t run over their designated time limits.
The College Democrats and College Republicans are two campus organizations. In addition to holding weekly meetings, both groups host events and go on trips. For example, the College Democrats have gone to Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Gettysburg. They have also invited politicians like John Hanger, Tom Wolf, and Joe Sestack to speak on campus. The College Republicans have participated in noteworthy activities as well, including going to Washington DC, joining the Mill Creek Sportsman’s Club for a gun safety instructional, and writing letters to troops overseas.
Though the two groups are separate organizations, both collaborate often. “We frequently discuss events and political issues throughout semesters,” said Kelly McNelis, president of the College Republicans and one of the debaters. “Many of the Republicans and Democrats are good friends between the clubs.”
Debates between the two organizations have been held on campus for the last four years. “The purpose of a debate like this is to promote public awareness on issues facing the country,” said Justin Eveler, the president of the College Democrats and also one of the night’s debaters. McNelis added, “This debate is to get both of our clubs talking and discussing current political issues and learn to develop ideas.”
Each group member had five minutes to explain their party’s platform on their designated issue. This was followed by a three minute “free exchange” between both sides. The people in attendance were given index cards if they wished to submit a question. Questions were asked after each issue was debated.
The debate was moderated by Adam Lawrence, a faculty member of Millersville’s government department. Lawrence is also advisor to both the College Democrats and College Republicans.
Lawrence opened the debate with a quote from John F. Kennedy. “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought,” Lawrence said. “The students tonight will demonstrate to you what it’s like when the two are combined, when we have opinion that is accompanied by thought and fact and evidence.”
McNelis and College Democrat Brad Bergman debated the first issue, abortion.
“Our party platform says that we do not support abortion under any basis except for cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in mortal danger,” said McNelis. McNelis stated that her party believes that human life is defined as beginning at the moment of conception, noting that the heartbeat of a baby begins 18 days after conception. “It’s not just women’s rights,” said McNelis. “The unborn baby has rights. So does the father.”
Bergman, representing the Democrats, said that his party believes that abortion should not be infringed on in any form, but noted that the party supports healthcare and educational programs that can reduce unwanted pregnancies from happening. “That’s the main problem,” said Bergman. “These women have pregnancies that they don’t want. What both parties could work upon is to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies while reducing the number of abortions in our society.”
Eveler started the second issue up for debate, welfare and welfare reform, by admitting that the program is so large that it does need some tweaking. But he said that his party believes it would be detrimental to get rid of the program and let so many Americans fall by the wayside. “The problem with the program is that we don’t help people who are in welfare get out of welfare,” said Eveler. He suggested giving recipients more healthcare options, job training, and better transportation for them to get to their jobs.
Brandon Nye, representing the Republicans said that the welfare system is broken. He noted that 4.2 million people are on welfare, but only 37 percent work. Nye suggested that recipients should not only be drug tested, but show documentation that they are applying for jobs. “Welfare should be a safety net,” said Nye. “We have to go back to a hard rigor focused on qualifying work for welfare.”
College Republican Tony Roseanelli kicked the debate on immigration reform off by stating that his party is not against immigration. He shared his ancestors’ experiences. “They came to America with nothing,” said Roseanelli. “But they became successful and were able to live the American dream.” However, he felt that some immigrants are liabilities, noting that many take advantage of government aid at the expense of legal citizens. His solution to the problem was to secure the borders more and have immigrants register with the federal government and pass national security tests to ensure that they are not out to harm any Americans.
Bob Grant, representing the Democrats, opened by saying that immigrants “are not just illegal immigrants, but living human beings who care about the country.” He noted that only 12 percent of the population is here illegally compared to 13 percent in 1901. However, the immigrants then were European. Grant chalked up the outrage over illegal immigrants from Latin and Central American to xenophobia. “Undocumented immigrants that are within our borders that work hard and pay taxes should have a path to full participation in America,” Grant said. He suggested the first step is to pass the Dream Act, which allows youth that came here as children a path to citizenship as long as they graduate high school.
The debate was sponsored by Millersville University’s Civic and Community Engagement and Research Project (CCERP). CCERP’s responsibilities include providing “opportunities for faculty, students, and staff to engage in and contribute their expertise in searching for solutions to challenges in local and global communities.”