About 300 people gathered Thursday evening, Sept. 4, at Western Carolina University to hear U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), and his 11th District Democratic opponent Tom Hill debate Congressional and governmental roles.
The candidates addressed specific questions on a number of issues from foreign policy in Ukraine and the Middle East to domestic concerns like health insurance, minimum wage, natural gas fracking and law enforcement in situations similar to the recent events Ferguson, Missouri.
Questions for the debates were submitted by registered voters in the district, including university students.
Zackery Howard, a WCU student who co-authored one of the questions, was impressed with the quality of the debate and dialogue between the candidates. “As a student of political science, I couldn’t be more happy to have debates like this on campus,” he said. “(The debate) humanizes the people running and offers an opportunity to see how they engage opponents and the public in a very open forum.”
Todd Collins, WCU associate professor of political science, directs the Public Policy Institute which sponsored the event and was pleased with the level of audience participation in it. “I thought it was a great blend of community members from off-campus, WCU students and WCU faculty and staff. There was a great energy from the audience as well, as supporters of both candidates turned out. It was clear that some voters were very passionate on both sides of these issues.”
Chris Cooper, associate professor and head of the Department of Political Science and Public Affairs, commented that hosting the debates “…embodies our public service mission. It’s a good message to our students that you have to show up; to participate in order to make a difference. Our students were intimately involved in this whole process. It exposed them to two powerful figures running for office; they got to see the democratic process up close.”
One of those WCU students attending, Gregory Lademann, agreed. He felt that student attendance could have been better, reflecting an unfortunate level of apathy. “Voter turnout among college-age students continues to be a disappointment,” Lademann said. “With the rising cost of college tuition in addition to a job market that is all but promising upon graduation, you would hope students would turn out in larger numbers. I would highly recommend for both students and members of the community alike to turn out to both the N.C. House and N.C. Senate debates.”
The debate, overreaching its scheduled hour by a few minutes, was moderated by Frank Fraboni of the station that broadcast it live, WLOS-TV 13 in Asheville.
It was the first in a series of three free-admission political debates scheduled on the WCU campus. The second will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23, featuring the candidates in the N.C. House of Representatives District 119 contest, incumbent Joe Sam Queen (D-Haywood) and Mike Clampitt (R-Swain). Then at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 2, the final debate audience will hear incumbent Jim Davis (R-Macon) and opponent Jane Hipps (D-Haywood), the contenders for the N.C. Senate District 50. Both of these will occur in Room 204 in the Health and Human Sciences Building on WCU’s West Campus.
For more information on the debates, contact Collins at 828-227-3898 or firstname.lastname@example.org.