Western Michigan University students debated environmentalism, gerrymandering, voting and more during a WeVote hosted panel on Nov. 2.
Representatives of four political RSOs, the College Republicans, College Democrats, Young Americans for Liberty and the Democratic Socialists of America, responded to questions curated from the internet regarding the issues facing young voters.
The panel began with each group describing their purpose and goals. Jack Levy of the College Democrats and Jacob Menhee of the College Republicans both said that their groups exist to encourage young people’s engagement with their affiliate parties. For the other two groups, neither of which endorses a specific party, the answer was less straightforward.
“For us it’s all about long term goals,” said Daniel Jaruzel of the Democratic Socialists. “Our long term goal is to democratize control over the means of production.” Their short term goal, he said, was to see all three Michigan ballot proposals pass.
“What we focus on is individual liberty and the Bill of Rights,” said Evan Oudekerk, speaking on behalf of the Young Americans for Liberty. “If you’re a libertarian and you think that means voting just for libertarian candidates, well you’re just not going to win any elections,” he said. Oudekerk endorsed split ticket voting, saying that while he typically supports Republicans, he has always split his ballot between the parties.
The groups also discussed their positions on the ballot proposals at stake this November. “Our stance, or the official stance endorsed by the Republican party, is vote no on all three proposals,” said Menhee. Within the College Republicans, and the Republican Party at large, there are some who are planning to vote yes on Proposal 1, he clarified.
Oudekerk, Representing the Young Americans for Liberty, spoke in support of Proposal 1, but expressed concerns regarding Proposals 2 and 3. “Proposal 1 is really simple, it means more freedom,” said Oudekerk. He then said that the group can not support Proposals 2 due to concerns over giving redistricting power to an unelected group. Moreover, he worried that the Proposal might simply replace Republican gerrymandering with Democratic gerrymandering. Concerns over voter fraud also prevent the group from endorsing Proposal 3, according to Oudekerk.
Levy, speaking for the College Democrats, was in favor of all three ballot proposals. “Gerrymandering is something that all parties do, Republicans and Democrats, but this Proposal would end it across the board,” he said, addressing concerns about Democratic gerrymandering.
Jaruzel stated that the Democratic Socialists support all three ballot measures while taking particular interest in Proposal 1. “I am without a party,” he said. “So I would just encourage that everyone vote for all three proposals. Especially Proposal 1, that’s something that is really important for a lot of college students and keeping them out of jail.”
The groups were then asked to explain their positions on environmental policy. Menhee was the first to answer the question. “What we are about is finding where economics and environmentalism meet. If we invested all the money that the government could into climate change we could probably fix it. But then we’d have a huge debt to worry about, so it’s about finding where the needs intersect,” Menhee said.
Levy expressed frustration at the Republican Party’s handling of the environment, criticizing the policy decisions of Sen. Margaret O’Brien. “O’Brien voted in favor of letting industries making their own regulations as to what they put in the water,” he said. The best approach to managing the competing needs of economics and environmentalism, he said, is to make the environment part of the economy. “If we can invest in keeping our environment beautiful, then people will want to see it. Tourism dollars can make up for the revenue in other industries.”
For Jaruzel, environmental concerns trumped all others. “Socialism is the means to environmentalism,” he said. He criticized the disposable products that he believes capitalist societies produce instead of sturdier, longer lasting goods. “If you throw a product out than that means you have to buy a new one. Capitalism, infinite growth, drives that, but when the environment is destroyed then our little political squabbling and out economy won’t mean anything.”
Oudekerk and Menhee both concluded by defending Republican control of the executive and legislative branch, and Menhee expressed a strong desire for continued Republican control within the state government. “Rick Snyder is great but he’s not perfect. But to scrap everything he’s done and start from scratch instead of just trying to fix those problems but stay on the same track seems like a step backwards,” Menhee said.
Levy concluded by expressing disappointment with the current state of affairs in Michigan under the control of the Republican party. “When you look at Lansing, it’s the perfect metaphor for the state as a whole,” he said. “It’s always under construction and frankly it just looks like s---.”
Regardless of the results of the midterm elections, all four speakers hope that it motivates college students to take a larger role in the political process through campaigning, activism, and voting.