Penn State’s politically minded filled 100 Thomas Wednesday evening to watch this year’s Great Debate between former democratic Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and former republican New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Penn State alumna. The topic of the debate was “American Politics: Where We Are and Where We Should Go”, but moderators sourced a majority of the questions from the audience’s tweets.
Both Ayotte and O’Malley began the debate with a brief opening statement. Ayotte spoke first by explaining that the 2016 election was America’s way of saying that people were frustrated with the status quo and did not believe that a democratic administration was leading the country effectively, so they elected a Republican President, Senate, and House. “It’s time for the Republican party to come together to work together to focus on the number one priority, which is better jobs and rising income,” Ayotte said. She also explained that we need better tax reform, better transportation infrastructure, changes to health care law, cuts to wasteful spending, and better support of the military and veterans. She closed her opening remarks by explaining that there is too much polarization in politics. “We are all Americans first and we all love our country,” Ayotte said. “We live in the greatest country on earth and it’s up to us to preserve it.”
O’Malley began his opening statement by outlining his qualifications not as a Senator, but as an elected executive in his role as Mayor of Baltimore and Governor of Maryland. He explained how he was able to get difficult things done by reaching across the aisle. O’Malley was able to get marriage equality passed, put in place an assault weapons ban and expanded background checks, and repealed the death penalty all by winning over Republican votes. On the issues, he explained that the most important issue is to ensure that people have better jobs and higher wages because “nothing works very well in our country if wages decline.” O’Malley said that he and Senator Ayotte agree on economic inequality being a major issue, but disagree on the approach to solving it. “In our country, we believe that our economy is not money. It is people – it is all of our people.”
The first audience question asked both candidates to address how they would reduce polarization in politics and close the partisan gap. Ayotte explained that civil discourse is important and that politicians need to look for common ground. “There are many areas where we can find common ground and we start with those and work to the bigger issues, but we need more of that because no one party has all of the answers,” Ayotte said. “You have to understand that we have to listen to the other side to find a place where we can work together.” O’Malley echoed many of the same sentiments as Ayotte, but explained that “we all have on obligation to pull people back to the table.”
The next topic was the environment and climate change, Ayotte was quick to point out and acknowledge that she believes that climate change is a both real and an important issue to address. “I think if you call yourself a conservative, then you should be actually conserving everything,” Ayotte said. “So I do believe that climate change is a real issue and I do believe that we as Republicans should be focused on protecting and conserving our environment.” Where she explained there is a difference of opinion is in the public policy approach to addressing it, but stated that she would like to see a more pragmatic approach with incentivized energy conservation and some even some regulatory approaches. What Ayotte didn’t want to see was increased taxes as it could hurt lower income families.
O’Malley approached climate change more as a business opportunity. “There are more jobs in solar than in all of coal,” O’Malley said. “There are more jobs in solar than in all of oil and natural gas extraction, and that’s without even breaking a sweat.” He pointed out that 35 percent of Iowa’s energy comes from Iowa wind and allows over 7,000 people to be employed. O’Malley believes that the United States needs to commit itself to utilizing 100 percent renewables by 2050 and fight to that goal like we tackled landing on the moon and how we fight militarism around the world. “This is the most existential threat that we have ever faced as a species on this planet, but the good news is that there are technologies that can actually address it.”
The next and most divisive question between the two former politicians was on evaluating President Trump’s 100 days in office. Ayotte emphasized that a key achievement was appointing conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch to the bench. On the regulatory front, she emphasized that Trump is moving towards positive change for easing stresses on small businesses. On foreign policy, Ayotte outlined Trump’s support of NATO and cruise missile strike on Syria were positive changes on America’s role in the world. “There’s still great challenges that remain: healthcare, tax reform, and the legislative accomplishments,” Ayotte said.
O’Malley was a bit of a loss for words when trying to answer the question but quickly responded with outrage how President Trump has criminalized all immigrant people. He pointed out that how you campaign determines how you govern and “one cannot run a campaign where one is scapegoating immigrant people, criminalizing and calling rapists all immigrants from Mexico.” O’Malley was appalled by the President’s attempt to put in place the immigrant travel ban. He also went on to explain that it is unconstitutional, prohibited by the 10th amendment, for anyone to turn over their local policing and local jail functions to a “national police force dragnet for immigrant people to load up in for-profit immigration internment camps.”
“We maintain in the United States of America today, and only 100 days into office, the largest for-profit immigrant internment camp of any nation on the planet. I’m appalled by it and I think you guys should be too,” O’Malley said. “On foreign policy, I have never known in the history of a presidency a doctrine of foreign policy that said that utter unpredictability, incompetence, white supremacists running the national security administration, and hot-headed temper and tweets at 2 a.m. is a way to run a dependable foreign policy for a free people.”
To close, both candidates were asked a variation of how they see their political party evolving as well as how they see their personal political careers changing. Ayotte explained that Republicans need to branch out and work across the aisle as a party or problems won’t get solved. On her personal political future, Ayotte said to “stay tuned.” O’Malley said that 2018 will be a big year, especially since 36 governor seats are up for reelection and he thinks the party is going to come “roaring back.” Personally, O’Malley is traveling the country supporting the Democratic party wherever he is needed. “None of us can responsibly go silent now and so I’m going to continue to be out there,” O’Malley said. “I might run again — I might be crazy enough.” An attendee shouted “O’Malley 2020!”