The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

College Democrats and Republicans come together for end of semester debate

Statues, gain of function research, legacies of capitalism and socialism and a $3 bill were topics of debate among participants
Photo by Russel Teske
College Democrats Zach Britt and Matthew Lehner (Left) debate Tatiana Bobrowicz and Ryan Anderson (Right) of College Republicans.

The UW-Eau Claire College Democrats and the College Republicans held a debate in Schneider Hall Thursday, as the semester comes to a close and with the 2024 General Election on the horizon.

The debate was moderated by History Enthusiasts, a UW-Eau Claire student organization dedicated to engaging in discussions around historical events.

The debate was between the outgoing president of UW-Eau Claire College Democrats Matthew Lehner and campus organizer Zach Britt and UW-Eau Claire College Republican President Tatiana Bobrowicz and Vice Chair Ryan Anderson.

Among the topics of debate were the issues of certain statues involving Confederate figures  located throughout the United States and their place in the 21st century, with both sides agreeing that it should be left up to local control.

“We believe that our municipalities best know how the municipalities should be run,” Lehner said.

The next two topics covered gain of function research and whether or not the coronavirus was the result of a lab leak or being man made and the legacies of capitalism and socialism.

The final topic would cover who should be on a hypothetical three dollar bill. The Republican side made the case for Theodore Roosevelt and his trust busting efforts and the legacy of the National Park System. 

“Another great thing which I think we can both agree on is his conservation efforts,” Anderson said. “He played a vital role in the conservation movement by establishing national parks, forests, and monuments to protect natural resources and wildlife.”   

The Democratic side would choose Harriet Tubman and her legacy in regard to the Underground Railroad which had helped free many runaway slaves before the Civil War. 

Things would shift gears once again, with both participants taking questions from the audience which were submitted in advance.

Among the questions answered were what are each side’s definition of a patriot, the benefits of being part of a political club and what a Blugold is to them.

Lehner would allude to the hill that leads to Hilltop Center in an answer to the third question. 

“It takes toughness and grit to climb that hill every single morning,” Lehner said. “I think a Blugold is somebody who has grit and who is tough.” 

After the debate concluded, Ian Bennett, a UW-Eau Claire student and treasurer for History Enthusiasts, said debates such as these are good for free speech on college campuses and for the loudest voices.

“This is great,” Bennett said. “It’s good to see the loudest of each party coming together civilly.” 

Grayson Farago, the UW-Eau Claire College Republican treasurer, said that dialogues with opposing sides are important not just for on-campus civil discourse, but for free speech and the nation.

“I think they’re an important part of free speech,” Farago said. “Because it allows us to have dialogues with each other, and talk about political issues, hot button issues, try to get at what is true and what we ought to do as a country.”

Beyond the debate stage, both groups were willing to talk about a variety of issues both on and beyond campus, as well as the main concerns and priorities of the respective parties and their chapters.

For College Democrats, their main subjects of concern included the Israel-Palestine conflict among other issues of focus.   

“There’s a lot of them, and it’s hard to name just a few,” Lehner said. “I think the top issues right now are protecting abortion rights, solving climate change, solving gun control and getting something passed like an assault weapons ban.”  

Among College Republicans, emphasis was placed on the importance of local voting and electoral regulations, both of which were on the ballot for the April 2 Wisconsin elections. 

The club has now begun to shift their focus to statewide and national elections, and raising awareness for their respective party politicians and leadership in the aftermath of recent redistricting within the state.  

“We have many state elections and state positions up for grabs, especially with the redistricting of maps that just happened,” Bobrowicz said. “It’s important to become aware of who your new representative is and to know who you’re going to vote for and why,”

The student groups also discussed the upcoming presidential election, and the front runner candidates: President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

Trump faces criticism for his connection to the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot and various legal troubles, including 91 felony counts, something Lehner said raises the importance of the upcoming general election.

“This is the most important election of our lifetime,” Lehner said. “You have somebody at the top of the Republican ticket who is on trial right now in multiple states and multiple jurisdictions.”

Biden is facing concerns regarding his age and mental state. Anderson said this is a key concern among voters. 

“He [Trump] walks into a room and owns the room, something President Joe Biden can’t do,” Anderson said. “He walks in, he stutters, he fumbles and he falls…” 

This was all that could be said before Lehner interjected, noting that Biden has had issues with stuttering throughout his life. 

By this point, however, it is too late for either side to put forth a fresh face for the general election. 

“I understand that young people want somebody that they can see themselves reflected in their leaders,” Lehner said. “I hope one day we have a younger president who is of Gen Z and represents our generation.”

As for what the future holds for future debates in the next semester, Bobrowicz said it is a possibility.

“I would be totally down to debate again before the election happens,” Bobrowicz said. “I think it’s great to have conversations before things get too heated.” 

Teske can be reached at [email protected].

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