Clinton, Sanders supporters debate policies Tuesday

By Miranda Donohue

(Robert Rigo/ Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/ Daily Collegian)

An audience of more than 25 students gathered in Herter Hall Room 227 Tuesday evening for a student-run debate over the policies of Democratic presidential hopefuls Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

With the Massachusetts primary less than a week away, the University Union organized the event with the help of three student organizations: Five-College Students for Hillary, UMass for Bernie Sanders and UMass Democrats. Michael Hout, president of UMass Democrats and Northeast Regional Director of College Democrats of America, served as moderator.

Main topics of discussion included matters such as Wall Street, gun control, criminal justice, education reform and health care.

Situated on the left side of the stage sat students advocating for Clinton: junior political science and economy double major, Reily Connaughton, junior politics and history double major Ashley Lund of Mount Holyoke College and sophomore government major Zana Shaw of Smith College. On the right side sat students advocating for Sanders: freshman political science major Noah Kouchekinia, sophomore legal studies major Brennan Tierney and freshman international relations and human rights double major Emmi Beuger. Both sides argued their standpoints in an orderly and deferential manner.

During the debate, the students – particularly Connaughton and Kouchekinia – discussed how each respective candidate plans on tackling Wall Street. The students for Sanders frequently referred to the lack of “super PACS” that financially support Sanders in his campaign, while accusing Clinton of receiving over $15 million dollars from Wall Street.

In response, the students for Clinton highlighted her views on regulating the activities between financial sectors and the ways in which Clinton will further support the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act signed by President Barack Obama, which restricts activity that indirectly and directly led to the 2008 Great Recession.

Each opponent’s stances on education reform and health insurance evoked strong emotions. Shaw took the lead on education reform for Clinton’s side as she spoke of how Clinton has designed a $350 billion plan that will allow students to work 10 hours in exchange for reduced tuition costs, which she believes will provide an incentive for students to continue their education.

Kouchekinia, by contrast, spoke of Sanders’ plans to lower the costs of public higher education while ensuring that the federal government will put pressure on states to avoid raising their tuition costs by asking them to pay a quarter of the cost directly to the government. According to Kouchekinia, Sanders also plans to implement a “new tax on Wall Street to supplement (the costs of college).”

Contest over health insurance policies constituted a good deal of the debate, with Tierney and Connaughton as leaders on the issue. Tierney delivered devastating realities of “29 Million Americans lacking any health insurance at all” and spoke of Sanders’ intent to create a single-payer health care system in America. Connaughton countered with Clinton’s support of the Affordable Care Act and her backing of “capping drug prescription costs to a low monthly rate” for Americans.

Both sides fiercely fought gun control as Lund explained that Clinton will take a “common sense approach” to gun violence, holding dealers and manufacturers responsible.

“Is it really worth all the deaths?” Lund asked the audience.

In response, Beuger discussed Sanders support of “waiting periods” during gun sales, as well as enforcing background checks.

To end the debate, Shaw reminded the crowd that during the process of reform within the United States, “anything is possible with the right integrity,” which she believes Clinton to possess. Kouchekinia countered in his support of Sanders, saying that “his proposals have given us hope,” thus reviving citizens’ interest in the political process.

Although the debate did become heated at some points, audience member Ben Pereira spoke up to remind the crowd of their common beliefs and desire to improve the nation.

“By the end of the day, we’re all Democrats,” exclaimed Pereira following the closing statements of the debate. Pereira’s words echoed through the room as spectators lined up to pose questions to the debaters.

Miranda Donohue can be reached at [email protected]