On Wednesday, Nov. 8, University of Rhode Island students gathered in Swan Auditorium for a debate between the URI Young Democrats and Young Republicans on the important issues of reproductive rights, health care, minimum wage, federally funded tuition, free speech within universities, firearm regulations, taxes, immigration and foreign policy.
This debate was organized by the presidents of the Young Democrats and the Young Republicans, Andy Boardman and Edward Tarnowski, and was moderated by Republican State Senator Elaine Morgan and Democratic State Senator Jeanine Calkin
As a first time moderator, Senator Calkin was invited to participate by the URI Democrats. “You have to be able to debate and defend your side,” Senator Calkin explained. “But you also need to be able to listen to what the other side has to say.”
Both organizations were allotted one minute for an initial response and then the conversation flowed between the two, allowing each side to argue their point equally for a total of five minutes.
“I think they did a really great job,” said Senator Calkin. “I can imagine the amount of work that went into preparing their thoughts on each of the topics.”
“Even if things became heated tonight,” Young Republican President Tarnowski explained, “This is how democracy is and this is how it’s meant to be.”
Tarnowski and Boardman came together in September to prepare for this event, with this being the first opportunity for an event like this before because of the Young Republicans recent reestablishment on campus.
“We both surveyed the members of our groups to list topics that they wanted to debate,” Boardman explained. “We let people decide on the issues they were most passionate and knowledgeable about.”
“The topics and most of the questions were prepared by the organizations and we read them,” Senator Calkin said. “Of course if we had a particular follow up question, we were able to ask those questions as well.”
Dispute arose however, when Senator Morgan interjected her personal opinions several times amidst the debate. Saying, “anything you receive that is free, someone else is paying for,” at the conclusion of the debate on federally funded tuition.
Members of the audience spoke out when Senator Morgan interjected the debate on reproductive health addressing the legality of late-term abortions and the lack of correlation insurance-covered erectile dysfunction pills have with insurance covered contraceptives.
After the Young Republicans’ debater expressed her views on an employer’s right to deny contraceptives in insurance plans due to religious or moral beliefs, the Young Democrats rebutted with statistics supporting decreases in abortion rates in alignment with accessibility to affordable contraceptives. It was also mentioned that insurance covers Viagra, but not birth control as a systemic issue within women’s reproductive rights.
Senator Morgan then interrupted the debate to share her opinion and correct the Young Democrats information. At which point, members of the audience became vocal, reminding the Senator of her role as a moderator and not as a participant in the debate.
“I don’t think it was her intention to interrupt,” Tarnowski said. “I think she was just trying to correct the mishearing of a question for a more informed rebuttal.”
“I was pleased that members of the audience spoke out on things that they viewed unfair,” Boardman said. “ I’m confident that the members of the audience understood what was happening.”
Regardless of moderation confusion, the debate was respectful, informative and important. “The free exchange of ideas will expose people to views they may not have heard before,” Tarnowski explained.
“I’m very proud of our members, they did a very good job,” Tarnowski said. “We were worried about this not going well, but it went very smoothly and I am very happy with the turnout.”
Most importantly, both organizations agree on the importance of informed involvement in political issues and the influence they have.
“The millennial generation is the largest generation in American History,” Boardman emphasized, “and yet only four in 10 millennials vote.”
“Getting informed at an early age leads to more participation in elections in the future,” Tarnowski said.
“Engaging in these political issues and how they effect s is important for everyone to reflect on and it’s how we share our voice,” Boardman explained.
Both organizations meet on Tuesdays and more information may be found on their social media. Anyone interested in watching the debate may view the hour-long event on the Cigar’s website.