On Thursday, more than 100 students and faculty watched the University of Tennessee College Republicans and Democrats battle it out in person and on Twitter in an annual debate hosted by Student Government Association’s Government Affairs Committee.
The debate was moderated by UT law school student Grant Davis. The College Republicans were represented by their president Greg Butcher. College Democrats were represented by their president Feroza Freeland and Eric Rouse.
Behind the debaters, two projectors displayed tweets that used #UTKSGADebate. The hashtag was trending in Tennessee before the debate had finished. The tweets ranged from discussion on the topics presented to insults against the debaters. For example, one attendee tweeted, “Greg you're looking a lot like trump right now. Can't interrupt then get mad at interruptions #utksgadebate.”
The topics and questions were similar to those that were asked of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton the night before.
The candidates were first asked about foreign policy and how the United States should protect itself from future acts of terrorism and what to do about the Syrian refugee crisis.
“I differ from the nominee a little bit. I think when there is a rigorous vetting process and our duty bounds, we’ll have certain numbers of refugees in our countries as we are now. Terrorists use this as a Trojan horse, but the bottom line is if America was leading in this regard, we would not have the problem we have today with the refugee crisis,” Butcher said.
“The United States should absolutely allow refugees in,” Rouse said. “We contribute to bloodshed that causes people to flee from their homes and seek safety, so we have responsibility to help them.”
Next, the organizations were asked about what should be done to create peace with Russia.
“There’s a certain point where someone has to say, ‘enough is enough.’ The Russians are not listening to us because they know that, if Donald Trump is elected, they will have a puppet in the White House,” Rouse said.
“The Democratic Party, both President Obama and Secretary Clinton, have been unwilling to take on Russia. Russia is on rampant — on the loose in world affairs,” Butcher said in response. “It’s going to require a president’s strength to take that on, and Hillary Clinton tried and failed when it came to taking on Russia.”
Another major topic was the environment, and debaters were asked about whether or not they support the switch to clean energy despite its economic costs.
“We are sitting on some of the world’s best natural resources — oil, coal and natural gas — to have a strong economy, and over the long run, if you have a strong economy, you’ll innovate. You’ll create a type of society where the technologies are thriving and where you can move toward a greener place, but you’re not going to do that through arbitrary regulations that hurt middle class families,” Butcher said.
“We side with the 97 percent of scientists who agree that climate change is real. It’s caused by human activity, and it poses a very serious threat to our planet,” Freeland said. “Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have surpassed safe levels as of this year, and we really cannot afford another four years of Republican inaction on climate.”
Additionally, the debaters were asked if they believed higher education is a commodity or a human right if you live in the United States.
Butcher, called the question “loaded.”
“It is something that should be available and accessible to people that can’t afford it, but to say we’re just going to give blanket free college — you could tax the top 1 percent in this country 100 percent. Take all their money. You wouldn’t pay for free college for a year,” he said.
“Secretary Clinton has presented a comprehensive plan to make debt free college a reality. Now notice I did not say free college. I said debt free college,” Freeland said. “Here in Tennessee, we are sitting on a $1 billion surplus … If this is the way to, you know, bring tuition costs down, why don’t we invest that in our universities?”
The organization leaders were then directed to what their respective parties would do about paid maternity leave and the wage gap.
Butcher, who again suggested that the question was loaded, said to the audience, “Let me just go ahead and bust the gender wage gap myth for you.”
Butcher than stated that the wage gap is a result of the majority of women choosing careers that have lower salaries.
“It’s not because people are paying different numbers for different work. It’s because there are different fields, and those statistics are being used by Democrats as a scare tactic.”
Freeland said in response, “There are reasons, historical reasons, why certain fields are male dominant and certain fields are not. There are reasons why we only have 20 female senators. It’s because, historically, only men were only allowed by society to go into these positions, and so women are still trying to catch up.”
Butcher responded by saying the government is not able to change history.
The final question was about how each party plans to unite the country no matter what the outcome of the election is. Both sides took the question as an opportunity to tell why the other side would not unite the country.
“What we have seen from the Republicans this election cycle has been horrific … Donald Trump is a man who never should have gotten this close to the presidency, and I do think that my friend (Butcher) over there would agree with me on that,” Freeland said.
Butcher did agree.
“In my opinion, yeah, stronger together is exactly just words,” Butcher said. “It’s just words for a woman who stood on the Democratic primary debate stage, and when asked which enemy she’s most proud of making, who did she say? Republicans. Does that sound like somebody who’s going to unite the country and work together post-election?”
The debate ended shortly after the last question after over an hour. The two organizations were given a chance to advertise their club to the audience.
The College Democrats and Republicans can be reached on VoLink, facebook and twitter: @utkdemocrats and @GOPatUTK, respectively.