By Ted Yoakum
With the race for the Western Student Association presidency heading toward the finish, both candidates will face off head-to-head at the annual WSA presidential debate, held this Thursday, March 10, at 7 p.m. in the East Ballroom in WMU’s Bernhard Center.
Candidates Erin Kaplan and Lauren Hearit will be asked 10 questions, written by the WSA Elections Control Board on important university issues, and will also field five questions asked by students in attendance.
Both candidates will be given 90 seconds to answer questions, with a 60-second period given to both for rebuttal to their opponent’s answer.
“This debate is the capstone event to see both campaigns’ models and ideas,” said Jesse Smade, elections control chair. “The issues that we, and the campaigns, will be talking about are pretty important issues.”
The board spent hours coming up with proper questions for the debate, Smade said.
“We’re real fortunate because of all that has happened on campus this year,” Smade said. “We’re going to be asking some relevant, modern, hard-hitting questions that all the students would be interested in asking.”
Along with these pre-selected questions, audience members will have a chance to ask the candidates questions directly. Blank index cards will be handed out and collected during the event, and five questions will be selected and asked to the candidates.
Along with the intensive question development, the board also voted on a few changes to the structure of the debate, most notably the format.
“It’s kind of non-traditional, the way [it’s formatted],” Smade said. “My board was actually divided on that.”
Another rule that is being enforced more strictly this year is a ban of any electronic device, such as cell phones or laptops, for candidates while at the podium. The reason for the ban is to prevent candidates from looking up information during their opponent’s answer period.
“They had a week to research information and more than that if they’re keeping with their positions in student government,” Smade said. “We want to keep it to what they know and their preparation will be reflected in there.”
Even with the changes to the format and rules, Kaplan and Hearit expressed confidence and excitement heading into Thursday’s event.
“We’re hoping the debate will bring fresh ideas to the campaign,” Kaplan said. “Our answers will be transparent, just like our campaign.”
Kaplan anticipates that the issue of differential tuition will come up during the debate, which she said her campaign supports. Kaplan noted that her campaign published a press release on the subject following the recent board of trustees meeting.
Like Kaplan, Hearit is also looking forward to the debate.
“I’m looking forward to playfully going back and forth with [Kaplan],” Hearit said. “I think it should be a fun experience.”
One question Hearit said she would like to be asked is on the state cuts to higher education funding, with Western Michigan University facing a 21-percent cut in next year’s budget. Hearit, who is currently interning in Lansing, said she has sat in on various committee hearings discussing the issue.
“I guess that’s going to be a challenging question, but one I hope that gets asked,” Hearit said.
Thursday’s event should have a fairly high attendance, Smade said, who estimates that at least 250 students will be attending.
“Attendance is definitely looking good,” Smade said. “I think we’re going to hear a lot more detail this Thursday than we’ve heard throughout the election season.”
Along with their participation in the debate, both Kaplan and Hearit are continuing their visits with WMU registered student organizations. Both candidates have said they will reveal any remaining endorsements within the coming days.
Voting for the WSA election begins Monday, March 14, at 8 a.m., and will continue until Friday, March 18, at 5 p.m.