In preparation for upcoming local elections, the College of William and Mary’s NAACP chapter hosted a debate between the Young Democrats and College Republicans Oct. 26.
The purpose of the event was to inform students before election day. Members of the Roosevelt Institute, a non-partisan policy institute, moderated the one-hour debate. Topics ranged from education to reproductive rights and included questions submitted by the audience via Twitter.
Students represented four local candidates on the stage. Mark Matney J.D. ’92, a lawyer from Newport News, is running as a Republican for the Virginia Senate seat against Democratic incumbent John Miller. In the race for the Virginia House of Representatives seat, Democrat and freshman incumbent Monty Mason ’89 faces Republican Lara Overy ’08, an administrator at Thomas Nelson Community College. Mason, Matney and Overy studied at the College, and Overy is currently working on her master’s degree in business at the Mason School of Business.
College Republican Nathan Ritchie ’16 represented Matney while Young Democrat Hannah McKiernan ’17 represented his opponent Miller. Young Democrat Jakob Stalnaker ’16 represented Mason and College Republican Brendan Zehner ’15 represented Overy.
On stage, the representatives tried to accurately portray the politicians they were speaking for, according to Ritchie.
“Honesty was the focus,” Ritchie said. “We tried to present the views of the candidate rather than of ourselves.”
In preparing to represent the candidates, some speakers referred back to previous interactions they had with those they were portraying. McKiernan said that she works for Miller and was an intern in his Miller’s office during the past legislative session.
The debate itself began with opening statements from each of the speakers. The first topic of expanding job opportunities for veterans largely saw agreement from both sides.
“[It is] a bipartisan issue, one that delegates and senators can agree we need to work harder on,” McKiernan said.
Differences became clearer after the question of gun control was introduced. Matney’s platform states that he is proponent of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
“We must resist the pressure to just do something about guns for the sake of saying we did something,” Ritchie said.
Stalnaker responded with a different point of view.
“I disagree that we can’t just let our emotions guide our legislation; sometimes the most important legislation we get is from our emotions,” Stalnaker said.
Zehner then traded barbs with Stalnaker about Mason’s track record before being cut off by the moderator. The environment was the next topic for the speakers. Each speaker agreed that it is important to maintain the ecological health and welfare of the Virginia Peninsula.
Stalnaker emphasized the need for unity on protecting the environment. Mason’s platform states that he is a strong advocate for protecting natural resources. He received a 100 percent rating for pro-environmental votes from the Sierra Club earlier this year.
“You don’t pay attention to partisan politics with things like coasts going underwater,” said Stalnaker. “These are real things; these are people’s lives.”
The bipartisan feeling was quickly lost again as the topic of education was introduced, specifically the future of K-12 school choice programs.
Virginia’s tax-credit scholarship program, the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits Program, serves students unable to afford a private education.
Zehner expressed support for expanding students’ options. Overy’s platform states her support for school choice, affordable access to college and higher pay for good teachers.
“We agree we shouldn’t pick and choose who gets a seat in our society, but we already do based on what school district you’re born into, and if you’re of low income, you’re stuck,” Zehner said.
Stalnaker disagreed on the issue of school choice.
“You have people, and you’re just giving them money to go to a corporation-sponsored private school,” Stalnaker said. “[It] Incentivizes some people to get those over other people, and you have to let education be a right for everybody, not just some people.”
Another rapid back and forth erupted between Zehner and Stalnaker before the moderator intervened again.
The final topic of the night was reproductive rights. It included the second question from the audience asking about how to deal with the economic effects of a pro-life or pro-choice stance.
“We shouldn’t punish a woman for having a child,” Ritchie said. “We shouldn’t punish a woman for having an abortion. So we should try to take economics out of the equation as much as possible.”
Debaters had one minute to present their candidates’ overall platforms.
McKiernan reminded the audience not to conflate the two democratic candidates together and to make fully informed decisions at the polls next week.
Elections for Virginia’s 93rd District will be held Nov. 3.
Flat Hat News Editor Amanda Williams contributed to this article.