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Congressional Candidates Visit Campus for Policy Discussion

By Amanda Richey, Editor-In-Chief

Amid the excitement surrounding presidential politics, many students might have forgotten that there is another election taking place Nov. 8. One of South Carolina’s Senators and the Representative for South Carolina’s fourth congressional district, which includes Greenville, are both up for re-election this year, and these races may prove to be just as heated as the presidential ticket.

Furman hosted a candidate forum open to both Furman students and the public, Monday Oct. 24 in Watkins room in the Trone student center. The forum featured incumbents, Senator Tim Scott (R) and Representative Trey Gowdy (R), as well as their respective Democrat challengers Thomas Dixon, a Charleston pastor, and Chris Fedalei, an attorney from Spartanburg.

Watkins was filled to capacity by students, community members, campaign staffers and members of the press as the candidates discussed policy topics on their campaign agendas for close to two hours. Protesters associated with Democracy Spring, a campaign finance reform activist group, and incumbent supporters also set up their camps outside of the Trone student center before the event began.

Each candidate was allotted 40 minutes of discussion time on pre-chosen topics with their opponent. House candidates Gowdy and Fedalei spoke first followed by Senate candidates Scott and Dixon. The House candidates devoted most of their time to discussing criminal justice reform, policing, immigration and other topics while the Senate candidates focused more deeply on education, gun violence and the Senate’s role in approving court nominations.

The conversation event also featured a five minute speech by junior   Sulaiman Ahmad about the “Dins Vote” campus voter registration campaign. The program concluded with a 20 minute segment in which all of the candidates discussed congressional efficiency and what it means to represent constituents. No time limits were enforced on speakers and polite discourse was highly encouraged.

The event was organized and moderated by political science professor Dr. Danielle Vinson.

“This is a chance for us to hear what issues are important to the candidates and hear them address the issues that are important to the community and to the students,” Vinson said. The relatively quiet campaign season for both of these races kept this discourse out of the public sphere, according to Vinson.

Vinson also had another goal in mind with this event: civility. The full title of the event was: “A Conversation with South Carolina Congressional Candidates: An Experiment in Civility and Substance.”

“I want to show students, and I want to show these candidates, you can have conversations with people you disagree with and learn from them,” Vinson said, referencing the tone of the presidential campaign season.

The South Carolina candidates primarily discussed policy, however the evening was not without character remarks and jabs from challengers Fedalei and Dixon at the incumbents’ achievement records during their tenure in Congress.

The two comments with the loudest audience applause came from Sen. Scott and Rep. Gowdy toward the end of the program.

“We don’t just represent a certain party or a certain race. We represent everybody,” Scott said, defending his record working with constituents to Dixon. ”If you’re going to be a public servant, you do the right thing. Not for your factions, but for the next generation of Americans.”

Rep. Gowdy responded to a jab from Fedalei about the Violence Against Women Act.

“I will never be lectured  [by] you about my commitment to violence against women…If you want to indict me for something, it’s all politics. Do not ever question my commitment to protecting women,” Gowdy said

Throughout her  time moderating the candidates, Vinson alluded to the role of compromise in Congress. According to her, the current gridlock boils down to members “talking past each other” along political party lines.

“Is the status quo what we want to continue to maintain? Because if we don’t figure out a way to compromise that’s what we get,” Vinson said. “I think a lot of times Congress is losing sight of that. So to the extent that we can make candidates more aware of that – incumbents more aware of that – I think it’s important.”

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