Oconee County Young Democrats and Young Republicans, meeting for a debate on Saturday at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce, agreed on two things.
First, they said it was good that they met and talked about their views on issues and said it was a rare opportunity to do so.
On most topics–they also talked about guns, immigration, and health care, including abortion–they disagreed.
That disagreement often included on the facts, with a common refrain being “I did research on this” as a defense of a statement.
The exchange, which lasted more than 75 minutes, was respectful throughout, and the students assembled for a group picture at the end, with all of them wearing a smile.
Organized By Republicans
Brittany Clark, a senior at North Oconee High School and the president of the school’s Teen Republicans, was a primary organizer of the event.
|Democrats On Left, Republicans On Right|
She was joined by Colby Baker, Julia Ballard, McCord Camp, Ashley Clark, Carson Curry and David Han from North Oconee.
Oconee High School Young Republicans Will Mauck, Chaim Moore and Riley Whited also joined the Republican team, bringing the total number to 10.
Four Democrats, from the Oconee County Young Democrats, participated. They were Cameron Colquitt, Riley Colquitt, Jonathan Burke and Reena Pidaparti.
The Republicans rotated team members for the various topics.
Pidaparti was joined by her three colleagues for some of the topics, but even then she took most of the responsibility for presenting the Democratic side.
Kevin Guthas, guidance counselor at Oconee County High School, served as the moderator.
An audience of 15 was present for the debate.
Started With Guns
The first question that Guthas asked was does the Second Amendment “still apply today?”
The Democratic response was that “Yes, but I think there are some exceptions.”
“It doesn’t guarantee an unlimited right to own guns,” Pidaparti said. Owners should have a license and a “good cause” for owning a gun, she said.
The Republican response from the three-member team for this topic was that the Amendment remains applicable, but two of the team expressed support for “reasonable” gun laws.
“The fact that we have a military shows that people should be able to own some type of firearm,” Moore said.
Two of the three-members of the Republican team wanted to arm teachers, and one did not.
Pidaparti did not want to arm teachers.
Healthcare And Abortion
“Is abortion a woman’s right?” Guthas asked to start the healthcare section of the debate.
Pidaparti had a simple answer: “Yes. Her body, her choice.”
“Doesn’t the baby have a right to have a chance at life?” Han asked in response?
None of the four Republican members supported abortion except to protect the life of the mother and in the case of rape or incest.
The Republican team spoke out against “universal health care.”
“It’s just not feasible,” Han said.
The Democratic team favored the Affordable Care Act, calling for changes to address problems that exist
The Republican team did not favor the Act.
“Does climate change exist?” Guthas asked.
“Yes, 99.9 percent of scientists concur,” Pidaparti responded. “This is a matter of science...This is very much a real threat.”
“In 1975, back in the 1970s, 75 percent of the people from both parties agreed that there was some problem in the climate,” Moore said.
Recently this has become very polarized, Moore added, “But this is something that especially young people can find common ground on, that climate does indeed exist.”
All three Republicans said the Democratic Green New Deal should not be adopted.
Brittany Clark said that the Green New Deal was a political statement “instead of actually trying to attack each issue one-on-one. Maybe if you broke it up you might pass something,” she said.
The Democrats also expressed doubts about the economic feasibility of the plan.
In opening the immigration section of the debate, Guthas asked: “Is America First the right response to illegal immigration?”
“Yes,” Ballard said. “I’m all for legal immigration. My biggest issue is illegal immigration.”
“The whole phrase ‘America First’ I just think feels like something nationalistic to me,” Pidaparti said.
“If America First means separating families at the border,” Moore from the Republican team said. “Then I’m not sure its America.”
“It’s totally the parent’s fault,” Ballard said in response.
Immigration produced the strongest disagreements, with much of it among the Republican team members.
“What we saw I think last summer at the border was completely inhumane,” Moore told Ballard. “What DHS did there, I think most Americans agree, was not right.” DHS stands for Department of Homeland Security.
“The whole thing with children in cages. The whole things was totally blown out of proportion. The whole story of children in cages. That was fake. That was totally put on,” Ballard
“There’s still evidence out there,” Moore said. “I think about the whole cages thing, you can go to bipartisan news sources, non-partisan news sources, like CBS was putting out video evidence of these things.”
President Trump had not been prominent in the discussion, but Ballard brought him up at this point.
“Donald Trump isn’t against immigration at all,” she said. “He is for immigration. He is against illegal immigration.”
“What about all of his xenophobic rhetoric throughout his entire campaign?” Pidaparti asked.
“Like what?” Ballard responded.
Despite the tension, the discussion ended positively.
“We’re having a civil debate, even though we may have different political opinions,” one of the Democratic team member said. “We can come to a civil consensus on climate change.”
Heads nodded in agreement.
Even before the session began, when the furniture was being moved and the format was being discussed, Moore had expressed a similar point.
“The purpose of this debate was to try to help us understand each other,” he had observed.
“The fact that we’re having this conversation today, I find it kind of amazing,” he added.
The video below is of the April 27 meeting of the Oconee County Young Republicans/Teen Republicans and the Oconee County Young Democrats, held at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce in Watkinsville.
I edited out a section at the front during which the group rearranged the furniture and discussed rules and procedures.
Unfortunately, the furniture arrangement meant that the Young Democrats were facing away from the camera, making it harder to hear them and impossible to see their faces as they talked.
It was not possible for me to move the camera without interfering with the audience’s view of the students.
Discussion of guns begins at 3:10 in the video.
Discussion of health care and abortion begins at 13:57 in the video.
Environment as a topic begins at 38:36 in the video.
Discussion of immigration begins at 46:40.