The University of Oregon’s College Democrats and College Republicans clubs went toe-to-toe in a debate Wednesday night that remained civil, but at times heated.
The four-person teams discussed four topics for the night: the Green New Deal, campus carry, free college and border security.
Daniel Tichenor, a political science professor and the director of the Program on Democratic Engagement and Governance, moderated the debate. He said that the sides had two minutes for opening statements before space for rebuttals. Audience members were provided cards to ask questions with at the end.
“We’re really hoping to keep this a very civil space tonight,” Daniel Paulsen, introducing the College Democrats, told the audience. “We really want to engage in good conversations with each other, and that is with help from all of you.”
Quinn Milionis, president of the College Republicans, spoke of the importance of debate discourse.
“I’m really glad people are interested in this kind of thing. If you engage with people on the other side, either your own opinion will get strengthened, or it will get changed for the better,” Milionis addressed the attendees.
On the Green New Deal, the first topic of the night, Democrats and Republicans disagreed on the effectiveness and economic cost of implementing the plan. “[Climate change] is our nation’s greatest threat,” said Brian Josephson of the Democrats in support of the proposal.
Michael Kraan of the Republicans argued that the Green New Deal ignored nuclear power as a viable option. “I’d like to emphasize that the position of the College Republicans is not that we shouldn’t do anything about [climate change], but that we need to do the right thing,” Kraan said.
“Nuclear energy remains the most efficient and safest way to get clean energy. France gets 70 percent of its energy from nuclear, and it’s the greenest country on the planet.”
While France gets around 75 percent of its energy from nuclear power, it is aiming to reduce that reliance, according to a Reuters report. France is the world’s second-greenest country behind Switzerland, based on 2018 Environmental Performance Index numbers.
Both teams agreed that education is important, but while the Democrats argued for more accessibility via government subsidization of higher education, the Republicans said that college degrees have lost value, and that opportunities are available that do not require university degrees.
The topic of campus carry relates to UO’s policy of prohibiting faculty, staff and students from possessing firearms on university property regardless of concealed carry, though an appellate court ruling declares Oregon state universities cannot prohibit firearms on campus.
Justus Armstrong of the Republicans said the club supported carrying on campus as a way to provide protection for civilians in dangerous situations when law enforcement may be unavailable and as a deterrent to crime.
“Campus carry won’t do anything to enhance safety on our campus,” Shreya Nathan of the Democrats responded. “The vast majority of individuals over the legal age can obtain a license to carry in a few days, and in that time, they’ve probably not adequately prepared to have a wild west shootout.” According to ORS 166.292, concealed carry permits in Oregon are issued by county sheriffs within 45 days of an application, provided the application is approved.
Nathan also said that gun violence disproportionately affects people of color. A May 2018 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and conducted between 2008 and 2016 found that black men in the United States were 14 times more likely than white men to die in firearm homicides.
The issue of border security drew more heated discourse, as both teams accused their opponents of lying. William Christensen of the Republicans defended the Trump administration’s proposed border wall after criticism of the concept by the Democrats.
“If you want to say that a wall or any kind of physical barrier does not work in reducing illegal immigration, you are vastly mistaken,” Christensen said. “Israel has had a wall around all its borders for years, and they have had single digit illegal immigration numbers.”
This claim echoes a similar one President Trump has made. An analysis by the Washington Post suggests that while Israel has experienced low levels of unauthorized immigration, its immigration policies may be more responsible than the border wall.
Christensen also characterized the southern U.S. border as “extremely dangerous” because of human and drug trafficking, and claimed that 22 million undocumented immigrants were in the U.S., and 11 million had criminal records, based off a Yale-MIT study that has been criticized as flawed.
Democrat Tristan Waits pushed back saying such statements were detrimental to understanding of the situation, and argued that the number of undocumented immigrants present in the country was closer to 10.7 million, according to Pew Research Center. “This constant rhetoric that there’s some sort of crisis at the border, to constantly scare people to running to the polls and the right, is a harmful rhetoric,” Waits said.
Population estimates released by the Department of Homeland Security in December 2018 put the number of undocumented persons in the country in 2015 at around 12 million. The Migration Policy Institute estimated around 11.3 million undocumented immigrants resided in the country, based off U.S. Census date from 2012 to 2016.
In the end, both sides seemed to recognized the importance of the discourse.
“I think the free exchange of ideas is really important,” Josephson said, addressing the audience. “When we talk about what makes college education important, it’s that we get to sit in a room where people don’t agree with you, and say these things, and have this debate.”