Representatives from student organizations across the political spectrum gathered in Lowder Hall on Tuesday night to debate issues related to healthcare, immigration, infrastructure, climate change, education and marijuana legalization.
Representing the Auburn University College Democrats were Seth Johnson, president, and Joelle Woggerman, vice president.
Representing the Auburn University College Republicans were Jonathan Stuckey, chairman, and Jack Disharoon, vice chair.
Representing the Plainsmen for Liberty were Gaines Odom, president, and Keller Williams, media relations manager.
The event was moderated by Evan Mealins, editor-in-chief of The Plainsman.
Each group was given one to two minutes to answer each question in a topic, followed by a few minutes of open discussion at the end of each topic. The event concluded with a few questions from the audience.
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On the subject of reducing fossil fuel emissions, the Plainsmen for Liberty argued for market-based approaches that wouldn’t increase the cost of producing fossil fuels, which Odom said would only pass the cost to the consumer, but instead subsidize the cost of renewable alternatives.
From the College Republicans, Stuckey advocated for gradual change and deregulation of oil companies to allow for increased funding in technology and research. He said the focus should also be on changing individual behavior to be less reliant on fossil fuels.
“As much as we want to say it’s the government and legislature’s problem, we are the consumers of that,” he said.
The College Democrats emphasized the need for change beyond the individual level if emissions are to be meaningfully reduced to avoid irreversible damage to the climate. This includes subsidizing the transition to electric vehicles and transitioning government infrastructure to renewable energy.
“There’s only so much that one person can do,” Woggerman said. “I can recycle all my plastic bottles, but that’s only 100 plastic bottles.”
Stuckey said it would be “dangerous” for an administration to set guidelines on climate change education, which he said would change from administration to administration due to the “debate around the facts of climate change.”
Climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that the observed warming of the global temperature over the past century is the result of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. In other words, it is “extremely likely due to human activities.”
Odom said he does not believe “it is the state’s job to do much,” but state education is an effective way to educate the population on anthropogenic climate change.
Johnson said many believe that actions taken to address climate change and human reliance on fossil fuels would hurt the economy, though many actions would stimulate the economy through job growth in renewable energy sectors.
Woggerman said the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan would create 10 million jobs as the economy shifted to reliance on renewable energy resources. Stuckey said the plan’s increased regulations on fossil fuel companies would hurt the economy, as previous government regulations have led to a loss in jobs in the energy sector and an increased cost of goods.
Johnson said a more environmentally friendly infrastructure would include better rail infrastructure and subsidizing the cost of electric vehicles.
Disharoon said the future of transportation is likely electric or hybrid, but supply-side interventions like reducing the supply of gasoline would hurt the consumer more than help.
“For your average consumer, going out on Monday and buying an electric car isn’t generally in their schedule,” he said. “A lot of people can’t afford to do that overnight.”
All three groups agreed that the expansion of internet access to rural areas of Alabama was necessary given the modern reliance on internet access for everything from school, work and connecting with others.
Woggerman said one of the biggest problems facing the American healthcare system is the inordinate power given to private healthcare companies, while individuals don’t have the benefit of large-scale collective bargaining to lower prices.
“We pay more on everything than almost any other industrialized country on Earth,” she said. “And when I say more I mean 500% more — for insulin, for life-saving treatments, for heart transplants, everything.”
Williams said intellectual property rights on pharmaceuticals were an obstacle preventing competition and resulting in unfair increases on drug prices.
Disharoon said he does not believe gig workers, like drivers for Uber or Lyft, should receive healthcare from their employers, as they are have chosen to give up the security of a typical job for the freedom to choose when and how much to work.
“It’s a tradeoff, and the workers that are in those industries are well aware of that,” he said. “Many of them started at companies and moved away from that to start their own businesses, and they were well aware of that going in.”
The dilemma surrounding gig workers and health benefits would be addressed if the United States moved to a universal healthcare system, Woggerman said. No matter where or how someone worked or whether they had been laid off, they would still have health insurance.
Williams said universal healthcare works in places like Denmark because they have a smaller population and a “homogenous people” with similar work ethics and cultures. He said a universal healthcare system would be difficult to implement in America when so many Americans are pro-life and do not want their tax dollars spent to cover the cost of abortions.
While Alabama has been recognized for the high quality of its pre-kindergarten programs, its K-12 education is among the worst of the states, which Woggerman said is the result of it being “criminally underfunded.”
“I have attended schools that literally had holes in the wall, that you had to bundle up in the winter because there was no [air conditioning], there’s asbestos in the ceilings,” she said. “These are the environments that students are learning in.”
Williams said the money used to fund public education should be centered around the students, not the system, and parents should be allowed to choose where to send their students.
While all groups agreed that illegal immigrants who arrived as children should be given a pathway to citizenship, Disharoon said the border must be secured with a wall first, or else the United States will send a message that says once someone comes into the country illegally, they can find a way to obtain legal status.
“If we can first secure the border, then certainly," Disharoon said. "I would propose we make a quick, easy, efficient way to turn all undocumented immigrants into legal citizens."
All groups agreed that those who are imprisoned for nonviolent offenses where marijuana possession or distribution is their only charge should be released if marijuana is legalized in the state of Alabama.
“It’s insane to know how much we spend to keep them locked up in prison for a nonviolent crime,” Stuckey said.
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