By Gabrielle Beacken
The College hosted two separate political events this past week as the New Jersey 12th District Congressional Election, which will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 4, quickly approaches. The 12th District includes portions of Union, Somerset, Middlesex and Mercer counties — including Ewing Township.
The events included a debate between the Democratic candidate, Bonnie Watson Coleman, and Republican candidate, Dr. Alieta Eck, on Wednesday, Oct. 22, and a Candidate’s Forum on Friday, Oct. 24. Director of the international studies program and assistant professor of political science Brian Potter moderated both events.
Wednesday’s debate, held in the packed Mayo Concert Hall, highlighted several critical national and campus-related issues. Such topics included federal marriage, public education, fracking, Middle Eastern relations, health care and campaign finance reform.
“I believe I can make a difference,” Eck said. Being that there are no female physicians in Congress at this time, Eck, a practicing physician, believes she can be a valuable asset. Eck and her husband founded the Zarepath Health Center, a free clinic for “the poor and uninsured,” according to her official campaign website.
Like Eck, Watson Coleman’s pointed out her expertise in her past experiences.
“I’ve been a leader in the legislature, working with Republicans and Democrats,” she said.
Watson Coleman is running with the support of current Democratic representative of New Jersey’s 12th District, Rush Holt, who has served in the New Jersey general assembly since 1998, representing the 15th District.
According to Watson Coleman’s website, she is the “first African-American woman to serve as Majority Leader of the New Jersey General Assembly and the first African-American woman to serve as Chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.”
The two candidates held contrasting views on several topics. While Eck was in favor of the possibility of sending ground troops to Syria and Iraq to combat ISIS, Watson Coleman argued that “boots on the ground is the last thing we should be doing.”
Another disputing topic concerned fracking. Eck stated that fracking, when proceeding with safety and caution, would be an affordable source of energy, while Watson Coleman argued that fracking negatively impacts the environment.
When answering a question about prison reform, Eck supported the decriminalization of marijuana, stating that especially for personal use, marijuana users should not be imprisoned.
“New Jersey may follow Colorado,” Eck said.
Watson Coleman responded by expressing her belief in the growth and expansion of drug courts, as well as providing treatment to addicts rather than following through on a policy of incarceration.
The most heated debate topic of the event, which included several rebuttals by both parties, was the discussion of job growth and the government’s role in the economy.
“Trenton has been treated poorly, but it can be an intellectual capital,” Watson Coleman said. Research facilities hosted in Trenton can create jobs, she added.
“To increase jobs, get government out of the way — not government jobs, private sector jobs,” Eck said, rebutting her opponent’s statements. “Obamacare is the biggest job killer New Jersey has ever seen.”
The second political event of the week was the Candidate’s Forum. According to an email distributed by College Relations to the campus community, all of the candidates were invited to attend, including: Allen J. Cannon (Democratic-Republican), Kenneth J. Cody (Truth Vision Hope), Bonnie Watson Coleman (Democratic), Don DeZarn (Legalize Marijuana Party), Alieta Eck (Republican), Jack Freudenheim (Start The Conversation), and Steven Welzer (Green Party).
However, only four candidates — Cannon, Eck, Freudenheim and Welzer — attended and participated in the event.
“The party system seems to be failing us,” Freudenheim said. “We’re all a little tired.”
Welzer agrees that citizens, when casting their ballots, should have more than two chief options between their parties.
“(We’ve) got to get beyond the only two-choice system,” Welzer said.
“It’s important that we dissolve party lines and think of personal lives,” Cannon said. “(The Democratic-Republican Party is) the party that set up the constitution, the foundation of equity for all American citizens.”
The federal legalization of gay marriage was the most discussed topic of the event, due to questions prompted by a student in the audience. The conversation delved deeper into the topic as the student prompted that the words “civil union” and “marriage” don’t carry the same social weight and equalities.
“We are arguing over a word, not the right for one person to love another,” Cannon said. Cannon argued that the word “civil union” holds the same rights and protection as the word “marriage.”
“We must respect the right of people to disagree,” Eck said, not in favor of the federal legalization of gay marriage. “We must treat everyone with the utmost dignity, no matter what.”
The topic of climate change also brought debate, as the Green Party promoted climate change as a valid and imminent threat.
“Ninety-eight percent of scientists say there is a warming,” Welzer said in response to Eck’s claim that scientists cannot prove that human activity is causing climate change. “There is really little debate here.”
“We know it’s happening,” Freudenheim said. “What can we do as a human race? We should take action.”
Students, too, should be asking questions and receiving answers from political officials, said sophomore international studies major and executive-board member of College Democrats Ambica Avancha.
“I was surprised that more people are not informed,” Avancha said. “I think it’s important for students to be involved in politics.”