The East Ballroom in the Shalala Student Center housed a political debate between four University of Miami law students Wednesday night, but the room was a far cry from the boisterous nature of most debates during the 2016 presidential race. The two groups, representing the Republican and Democratic parties, didn’t even mention the names of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
A group of about 55 students quietly joined in the ballroom to watch, UM College Republicans dressed in Trump campaign gear and cowboy hats on one side; Young and College Democrats in everyday clothes and the occasional “H” sticker in support of Clinton on the other.
The event, hosted by Get Out the Vote (GOTV), included two students on each side, representing the Republican and Democratic parties. Throughout the night, both sides got two minutes to respond to questions, with time for rebuttals afterward. The debate was strictly policy-based and the names of each major party candidate were avoided.
GOTV Secretary Ralph Paz said keeping the specific stances of the candidates out of the debate was the result of an agreement between the organization and the student participants because they all felt this particular election was polarizing.
“We wanted individual ideas, not particularly group ideas. We wanted people to provide their own opinions not an opinion set by somebody else or someone’s platform,” Paz said.
He said that by allowing each respective participant to vocalize their own views, there was more common ground between the parties.
“You saw that the Republicans and Democrats agreed on some issues, which you wouldn’t think they’d agree on,” Paz said. “And they also disagreed on issues that you wouldn’t think they disagreed on and that’s important because it shows that politics isn’t just what you see on TV.”
One of the more impassioned moments of the debate came after a policy question about the low U.S. Gross Domestic Product growth rate, which has not been more than three percent in the last 20 years. During his response on behalf of the Democratic party, Ian Campa, son of Cuban immigrants, said the country’s GDP was not as bad compared to other countries like China because of the impact of immigration.
“Immigrants tend to not only be younger when they come, but to have more children who will then help pay for other social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security,” he said. “We need that influx of young blood, of young workers to come into this country and put to work what they know from their home countries and help the American economy.”
After a brief scuffle, Law School Republicans President Frank Florio said he agreed with some of the arguments Campa made and that he saw immigration as a benefit to the United States, so long as it was done legally.
“At least from my side as a conservative, immigration is fantastic. It does contribute in very positive ways. But what doesn’t is illegal immigration where unaccounted-for workers that businesses take advantage of to hire and then push out others that sometimes are in the lower income brackets that need jobs,” Florio said. “I’m not against immigration. Immigration is fantastic. It needs to be controlled though.”
Florio went on to say there is a “semantic divide” between Democrats and Republicans regarding immigration and that, despite popular belief, no one is against immigration, just illegal immigration.
Throughout the debate, both sides remained calm and civil with each participant concluding their thoughts when their time was up. GOTV President Monica Bustinza said the civil debate, part of GOTV’s election-related events series, was meant to give students the tools they need to vote.
“Sometimes students don’t know what it means to be a Republican or what it means to be a Democrat, and when you give them the opportunity to actually hear what are the principles, the values of each political party, it is much easier to identify themselves,” she said.
GOTV’s next event will be a “Pizza and Politics” watch party of the last presidential debate on Oct. 19.