Amid protestors, promoters and political junkies, the four leading candidates for California’s 30th congressional district seat discussed the debt crisis and the outlook for graduates in the VPAC Monday evening as part one of three of the A.S. Big Politics series.
Moderated by Bill Handel, the debate between Democrat Congressman Howard Berman, Democrat Congressman Brad Sherman, Republican Mark Reed and Republican Susan Shelly focused on how decisions made in Washington are affecting the San Fernando Valley, and more specifically, CSUN students.
Questions raised by faculty moderator and business law professor Michael Sidley and student moderator and political science major Ross Perry included how candidates would fix budget issues and the potential rejection of “Obamacare” by the Supreme Court.
Berman, who previously represented California’s 28th district, cited debt as a fundamental problem.
“We’re hitting on the issue that’s critical to our economic future in this country, which is higher education. If we don’t provide financial support for our institutions, we are going to forfeit not just your future, but our country’s future.”
Susan Shelly, in response to how she would deal with student loan interest, blamed poor job growth for the burden students are facing. She suggested creating a constitutional amendment to lower taxes in order to bring jobs back to America. “What would you do if you could keep 95% of the money you earned?” she asked the crowd, which drew criticism from Handel, who responded by asking if Shelly really meant to impose a tax of only 5%. She opened and closed her presence on stage by promoting her books.
When asked about how he would deal with Obama’s healthcare bill in the case of its unconstitutionality, Sherman suggested switching to a single-payer system, which would pool resources to provide healthcare for everyone as designated by the government. Moderators made a point of emphasizing that students and recent graduates are the ones most likely to benefit from the provision that allows for them to remain on their parent’s insurance until the age of 27.
Reed, who is running against Shelly as a Republican candidate, criticized the bill as being “well-intended, but not well-thought out.” He called for clarification in the underwriting of the bill to bring out the better aspects that would benefit constituents without ambiguity.
Protestors helped set the tone of the event early on. Angered by the exclusion of third-party candidate and former CSUN professor Michael Powelson, audience members began heckling the candidates and moderators within the first five minutes of the event, resulting in the removal of two audience members, one of which was Powelson himself, and the threat to remove a third.
Handel, who used sharp, tongue-in-cheek humor to deal with both the hecklers and the candidates, wasn’t overly enchanted with the event.
“There was a lot the regular stuff that politicians have to disgorge, but I think it’s fair to say that the fight is between Sherman and Berman.”
While the event drew an audience of over 500, there was an obvious absence of CSUN students. Marbella Lupercio, Associated Students lower division senator, hopes for a larger turn out for the following events.
“Since we’re promoting everything as a series, I think we can take tonight’s experience and use it to better organize next year’s debates. What’s happening now probably isn’t going to change, but since a lot of our students are commuters, it’s understandable. We’ll take that into consideration for our next events.”
The senate approved an $18,000 budget for all three events, none of which was spent to bring candidates to campus.
“Everyone agreed to participate without compensation,” said Nicole Corlett, A.S. senator for the College of Business and Economics and production director of the series.
According to their website, A.S. sponsored the events as “a response to a campus call for political engagement.”
“A lot of planning has gone into this,” Corlett said. “We’ve been working on it for a couple of months, but it really opens your eyes to the possibilities.”