Student organizations host 'Know Your Vote!' panel with candidates for upcoming elections
"Right now, a lot of college students don't know that there's a huge election coming up in a month," NAACP Vice President Jhanel Davis said. "We are a political organization, so we wanted to make sure we stay in the political bound. We want to make sure we keep up the pace with the state and local elections."
The panel consisted of: two candidates running for Governor in 2018, Shri Thanedar and Gretchen Whitmer; Teri Banas, candidate for Michigan's 69th House District representative; and East Lansing City Council candidates Aaron Stephens and Susan Woods.
"I think that the student vote is critically important," Whitmer said. "If every millennial voter turned out, they would decide the outcome of the election. No one has a greater stake in where the future of this state is headed than young people. And that's why I'm here, that's why I'm traveling and getting into colleges and campuses all across the state."
The panelists were presented a list of questions by the organizations ahead of time and students attending the event had the opportunity to write down their own questions on note cards that the candidates were instructed to later answer through social media.
"We need a lot of energy, a lot of ideas," Thanedar said. "I know many young people are attracted by progressive ideas and we believe our campaign is very progressive. Whether it is single-payer health care system, raising the minimum wage, or making education affordable."
The questions included how candidates would handle hate crime, the opioid crisis, city spending and student loans. Each candidate answered with personal experiences, personal philosophies and promises for future legislation.
In response to the question of how they'll respond to potential hate crimes, Whitmer recalled her reaction to Milo Yiannopoulos, a media personality associated with the alt-right, coming to MSU's campus while she served as the Ingham County Prosecutor.
"The police asked my office to issue charges against people that were protesting Milo's ugly rhetoric," Whitmer said. "And I sent it back to the police and said 'unless you could show me that there are charges I'm not going to participate.' What we're getting right now from the White House is putting people in danger. It's enabling and encouraging this ugly rhetoric and behavior that is resulting in crime across our state and across our country."
In regards to the opioid epidemic, Banas talked about her efforts as the Advocacy and Communications Manager at the Michigan Head Start Association that will be working with health institutes.
"It isn't the matter of incarcerating somebody, it's the matter of dealing with medical treatments and putting the attention to the needs of people," Banas said. "It also means going after people like big pharma who have told us over the years that these drugs are safe."
Woods, who is an incumbent in the city council election, discussed how the city is tackling spending in response to a question on East Lansing's financial forecast.
"What we have come up with is the income tax," Woods said. "Now, I know you guys don't want it and I know President Simon doesn't want it, but what we're trying to do is spread out this revenue gain."
Thanedar spoke about his past of working many jobs to support his family and how education has been a ladder for him to come out of poverty. He also highlighted the importance of providing resources that have been lost during budget processes like mental health services, rehab for drug epidemics and affordable education.
"We don't have resources to do some essential things that we need to do and we can't continue this way," Thanedar said. "At the same time I know people don't want tax expenditures and they want us to be fiscally responsible, but having owned small businesses, having made payroll every two weeks, I bring that fiscal discipline to the government. I bring a lot of compassion because I've lived in poverty."
Stephens' closing statement mentioned his passion and belief in the importance of civil service and for students to get involved with the community.
"I want to create a movement of young people getting involved," Stephens said. "Not just on the state and federal level, although that is important, but on the local level. I get a message every single day that says something along the lines of 'how can I resist, how can I get involved?' Every single thing that you do, no matter whether it's your parking rates in the city or whether it's health care legislation on the state level, is something that you should be involved with."
Some students from the crowd are currently working on Thanedar and Whitmer's campaigns and attended the event to hear from and learn more about their preferred candidate.
"I'm a communication intern for Gretchen, I saw her speak at the Woman's March and it was awesome," professional writing junior Allison Fargo said. "So when I saw she was running I wanted to go with the campaign and of course I wanted to come to an event at MSU."
According to MSU NAACP, the group reached out to a large pool of candidates for the upcoming elections but only the five were able to attend. The MSU College Republicans were invited to the event as well, but were unable to make it.
"The turnout was great, a lot bigger than I personally expected," Jhanen said. "We want to make sure that the college students are represented on the ballot."