Campus political clubs discuss election issues in open forum, ‘Great Debate’

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Representatives of the Cal Berkeley Democrats and Berkeley College Republicans presented their views on midterm election issues during the “Great Debate” Thursday evening, an annual event co-hosted by the two campus political clubs.

BCR representatives Kerida Moates and Alexander Salazar debated Cal Dems representatives Jessica Douglas and Kevin Sabo on the statewide topics of immigration, education, public safety, the prison system and drugs, as well as local issues of the minimum wage and Measure D, the “soda tax.”

“I liked that it was about … specific things that were going to be on the ballot at the midterms, so people could think about the issues and not so much about the ideologies of both Republicans and Democrats,” said first-year Chitwan Kaudan, who plans to vote in the upcoming election.

Sabo, representing Cal Dems, said he supported raising the minimum wage and added that failing to adjust the minimum wage for inflation is a “fairy tale that is not realistic.” Salazar, representing BCR, argued that raising the minimum wage at a fast pace would be “too onerous on Berkeley businesses.”

When debating Measure D, which would impose a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages, Douglas of Cal Dems said the soda tax would promote health by decreasing consumption of sugary beverages. Moates from BCR opposed the soda tax as having a disproportionate effect on lower-income and minority families.

On education, representatives from the two organizations debated the effectiveness of Proposition 13, passed in 1978, which more than halved property taxes, and Proposition 30, a California ballot initiative passed in 2012 to increase taxes intended to increase funding for higher education.

“We all have so many different ideas on how to make (education) better — I think that’s where we clash the most,” said Ismael Contreras, political manager of Cal Dems, after the event.

Although opinions diverged on most topics, both sides agreed that lessening the sentence of nonviolent drug offenders through the passage of Proposition 47 would ease the pressure on the state prison system.

After the debate, Contreras and Claire Chiara, BCR president and former staff member of The Daily Californian, moderated comments from about 50 audience members on minimum wage, prisons, the soda tax and immigration.

According to Chiara, the fact that they were able to maintain a high level of turnout was a testament to the success of last year’s debate.

“Last year marked the turning point when we tried to change the structure of the event to make it a more inclusive environment and started including audience in an open forum,” Chiara said. “That really paid off, because people were interested in coming back this year knowing they would hear others’ opinions and be able to voice their own despite not being in the clubs.”

Contact Amy Jiang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ajiang_dc.