Tame senatorial debate showcases Pacific’s quality
Californians’ eyes were on Pacific Monday night, as the five leading candidates for the state’s imminently vacant U.S. Senate seat faced off for the first time at the DeRosa University Center. Attorney General Kamala Harris, Representative Loretta Sanchez, businessman Ron Unz, and former Chairmen of the California Republican Party Tom Del Beccaro and Duf Sundheim all tried to make themselves stand out from a crowded field of contenders in front an audience largely composed of Pacific students in the DUC Ballroom. Harris is currently polling with a large lead over the rest of the field, and no earth-shattering moments occurred during the debate that are primed to change that anytime soon.
The event itself was relatively amiable, compared to the acrimonious presidential debates citizens have grown accustomed to seeing throughout this primary season. With three Republicans and two Democrats on the stage, one might have expected more fireworks among the participants. Instead, the few jabs that were thrown seemed to be measured and strategic in nature, as opposed to typical partisan-driven attacks.
California’s run-off election system clearly had something to do with that. The system dictates that the top two vote-receivers in the June Primary will move on to the November election, when a winner will be chosen.
Kamala Harris seemed to have this in mind when she made a point to mention her opposition to anti-Muslim rhetoric in response to a question on whether President Obama has done enough to combat terrorism.
She was alluding to the fact that Sanchez, her closest competitor in the polls, had faced controversy in December after commenting on the number of Muslims who support an Islamic caliphate. Sanchez received an opportunity to defend her comments, saying that she was not talking about “my American Muslims,” and that no one had actually refuted the numbers she had cited.
While Harris prodded Sanchez in order to get a head start on her most likely opponent in the November race, others on stage went after Sanchez in an attempt to push her out of that coveted second position. On the topic of immigration, when Sanchez dismissed Sundheim’s idea of using border sensors to prevent illegal immigration, Sundheim hit back by criticizing Sanchez’s lack of attendance at meetings for the House Committee of Homeland Security. The representative defended herself by saying that she sat another committee that holds meetings simultaneously.
Surprisingly, there were only a couple of direct attacks on the frontrunner all night, and both were issues raised by Tom Del Beccaro. Del Beccaro first criticized Harris for publicly supporting Planned Parenthood while investigating David Daleiden, an investigative journalist who secretly recorded Planned Parenthood employees discussing the organization’s uses for fetal tissue. Del Beccaro also hit Harris on her failure to pursue the death penalty for a man who killed a police officer; he criticized her “Back on Track” program to reduce criminal recidivism as well. Harris responded by saying that she is “a proud supporter of a woman’s right to choose,” and that her policy on criminal recidivism is a model for the country.
Overall, Del Beccaro did one of the better jobs at separating himself from the rest of the candidates. During his answers, he made a point to mention that he was the only one on stage consistently lobbying for less government intervention. “The other candidates are not specific, whether it’s on foreign policy or on jobs,” Del Beccaro told The Pacifican.
One of the topics on which Del Beccaro opposed a governmental solution was the issue of college tuition, an issue raised by Student Body President Serena Welch ‘16. Welch received the opportunity to ask the candidates a question, and she asked for their thoughts on the federal government providing free college tuition for students. Harris and Sanchez supported free community college, while Unz and Sundheim joined Del Beccaro in opposing free tuition in favor of alternative answers, such as cutting down on expensive university bureaucracies.
Welch was happy to participate in what she characterized as a great debate. “Some candidates were better at evading the direct question than others, but overall I felt like I left the debate knowing more about the candidates and being more informed on what my decision will be,” said Welch.
Upon the event’s conclusion, most of the candidates stuck around in the lobby of the DUC to chat with reporters and students. Harris was a notable exception; the frontrunner left the lobby in a hurry after answering questions for a short time, shaking students’ hands and urging them to “stay politically active” as she moved to a VIP area upstairs.
Many students took advantage of the rare opportunity to see and hear from the candidates in person. Tazeen Hussain ’17, who had a seat in the ballroom, felt that the debate was a positive experience for the community overall.
“I think that, because Pacific is such a relatively small university, seeing senatorial candidates come out here is great experience,” Hussain said. “People in Stockton, especially young people, are getting better access to information about the candidates… This exposes us to what is going on.”
Alec Peden ’19, who served as an usher during the debate, was grateful for the opportunity to be involved in the high-profile event and witness the dialogue up close. “What stood out to me was how passionate most the candidates were,” Peden said.
In addition to the valuable experience gained by students, the debate also did well to serve as promotion for the University. During live reports prior to the event, KCRA 3 anchor Edie Lambert, who served as a debate moderator, sang the praises of our beautiful campus and its engaged students. In addition, an advertisement for the University ran a number of times during commercial breaks.
“I think this exposed the campus to a wide audience that might have been unaware of who we were,” said Professor Jeffrey Becker, who holds a doctorate in political science. Dr. Becker also noted that the advertisement for Pacific was aired all across the state. “It showcased the fact that the University can host these types of quality events.”
No matter one’s opinion on politics, it is clear that this debate was a wonderful opportunity for all members of the Pacific community. If you were not as involved in the event as you could have been, that is okay, too: With how well the occasion reflected on the University, Pacific could be hosting another debate in the coming years. After all, the 2020 presidential election is just a few years away!
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