Georgetown debate engages student issues

By Jed Layton, Hinckley Institute Journalism Program

WASHINGTON8212;John Maurer was tired of hearing about lipstick on pigs and how many houses John McCain owns, so he was relieved to hear two members of Congress debate issues that were important to him.

Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., and Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., fielded political questions posed by journalists and students at Georgetown’s Young Voters Forum on Thursday. They represented the two candidates, answering the way they felt Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. McCain would if they had been present.

Held at Gaston Hall on Georgetown’s campus, the two representatives spoke in front of a crowd of more than 600 students. Journalists Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, James Kotecki of The Politico and Jerry Zremski of The Buffalo News asked questions submitted by Georgetown students.

“The Young Voters Forum was the perfect way to engage students this season and get them involved and thinking about the issues that matter most to them,” said Ellen Dargie, president of the Georgetown College Republicans.

Maurer, a Georgetown student, said it was interesting to finally hear the issues discussed.

“Too often elections become focused on the people,” Maurer said. “Who the candidate is becomes more important than what they represent.”

He felt the two issues most important to him, foreign relations and national security, were adequately addressed in the forum.

Davis and Wilson asked why some issues, such as education reform, are not talked about enough in the campaigns.

“Candidates answer the questions they are asked,” Wilson said.

She said while education and social issues are important, the economy and energy top the list of concerns for Americans.

Davis said that better higher education could help solve problems.

“Most people in this country don’t get Georgetown-quality education,” he said.

Davis said both he and Obama believe better educated students would create more jobs, more people with health care and more independent savings.

Chris Dodge, a spokesman for the Georgetown College Democrats, said that in talking with students, the war in Iraq and student aid are the most important issues.

“The folks fighting and dying overseas are our brothers, sisters and friends,” he said.

The war in Iraq was a point of sharp disagreement between Davis and Wilson. Both agreed Iraq needed stability and independence. How that should be accomplished was another question.

Davis said both he and Obama recommend turning over the problem to the Iraqi people. That would keep American money in America and would help resolve bad relationships America has with Iraq’s neighbors, he said.

“Obama recognizes that Iraqis have to decide for themselves that they want to be one people,” Davis said. “We can’t do that for them.”

Wilson said abandoning the country without proper military support would leave the Iraqis worse off than before the American invasion. She touted McCain’s strong military experience.

Dodge, who helped plan the event, hoped the students in attendance8212;especially undecided voters8212;gained new perspectives.

“Even though I disagree with Rep. Wilson on nearly every issue, I had a lot of respect for her,” he said.

Clark Young, a Georgetown senior, was disappointed in the event. He said he had hoped to hear an actual discussion rather than a filtered debate.

“Undecided voters weren’t able to ask the questions they wanted or have a discussion with the politicians to go beyond the scripted messages of the campaigns,” Clark said.

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Editor’s Note8212;Jed Layton is reporting in Washington, D.C., through the Hinckley Institute of Politics Journalism Program and Shantou University.

Ma Jing / Hinckley Institute Journalism Program

Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., and Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., shake hands after fielding political questions posed by journalists and students at Georgetown?s Young Voters Forum.