The USM Speech and Debate Team hosted the Southern Mississippi Congressional District 4 Debate on Oct. 26, 2016 at the Thad Cochran Center.
The debate featured Democrat Mark Gladney and Libertarian Ric McCluskey, both of whom are candidates for the position of Mississippi Congressman. Steven Palazzo, incumbent representative Republican candidate, did not attend the debate due to other obligations.
The two candidates answered multiple questions about their stances on topics such as foreign policy, education, immigration, veteran care and other current issues.
Members of the Speech and Debate Team acted as moderators for the debate, which was attended by an audience of more than 100 voters, including many students.The event featured audience participation through a text system allowing those in attendance to pose questions for the candidates.
Director of Speech and Debate Paul Strait introduced the candidates and organized the event.
“We think it’s important for the university to have an outward facing initiative,” Strait said. “This means citizen and community engagement: getting people involved and educated. The purpose of this institution is to educate people, and we thought this was a great service we could provide as the speech and debate team.”
The main topic brought up by the moderators was the candidates’ opinions on the most important challenges the nation faces and their proposed solutions to those challenges.
“We hire politicians for a specific job,” Gladney said. “We can’t let them forget to represent normal, everyday people. The middle class has been crushed by unaffordable healthcare, stagnant wages and unfair tax distribution. If we don’t get a handle on these issues, the middle class is going to disappear.”
“Right now we look to D.C.,” McCluskey said. “Both parties are taking a huge involvement in our personal lives when they can’t even sweep off their own doormats. We need accurate representation. Someone to be accountable. It’s my responsibility to protect The Constitution.”
McCluskey argued for a more hands- off government with more emphasis on voter opinion and Constitutional values.
“We have to stop doing the same things over and over again,” McCluskey said. “Government needs to be reduced and ultimately get out of the way. The economy has gotten progressively worse because the government is getting progressively larger.”
Gladney said he leans more toward replacing government officials with those who will make decisions to benefit more people, emphasizing that the government is responsible for handling issues such as unaffordable healthcare and resolving social issues.
“Education is the key to 90 percent of the problems we have,” Gladney said. “A cookie-cutter approach doesn’t solve anything. Until we fix this, nothing else is going to get fixed, and only the government can make this happen.”
The two candidates, although they had different opinions on the issues presented tonight, both agreed that incumbent representative Palazzo is not fit to represent Mississippi in congress and gave multiple examples to support this shared opinion.
Senior history major Caitlin Osborne said she has been interested in the current presidential debate and wanted to learn about local politics.
“I really didn’t know anything about either of these candidates, only Palazzo, which is a big reason I wanted to come,” Osborne said. “This was a definite game changer for me. I think the most important issue discussed was Mississippi’s treatment of gay rights legislation. It was interesting to hear two different sides.”
Strait said the event’s turnout was better than expected.
“We were really impressed with the turnout,” said Strait. “We hope that this reaches a lot of people and are excited for the next round of debate at the USM Gulf Coast Campus.”