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Students find common ground at political organization debate

A panel representing various Belmont political organizations held an informal debate in the Vince Gill room Wednesday night, discussing everything from healthcare to the opioid crisis.

The debate was sponsored by the Student Government Association and moderated by David Plazas, the opinion engagement editor for The Tennessean.

“Civility in this time has become a four letter word, because how can you be civil in this time of division and polarization? But the reality is it’s needed more than ever,” said Plazas.

Despite their differences of opinion, the panelists kept the conversation civil and found common ground on several issues.

Each speaker shared support for the recent opioid legislation passed by President Donald Trump’s administration.

Though College Democrats Vice President Bailyn Dupont disagrees with much of the legislation passed by the Trump administration, she approves of this bill, she said.

“The bill expanded Medicaid for treatment for rehabilitation, so that people in poverty can get Medicaid as their primary source of healthcare for treatment for drug addiction,” said Dupont.

Claire Smith, president of Turning Point USA, worked with the corrections department this summer, which deeply affected her perspective of the opioid crisis, she said.

“I think that it’s going to take more than the government to actually solve everything that’s going on, but I do think today was a big step,” said Smith.

After the panelists discussed the opioid crisis, Plazas brought up the topic of marijuana. The three panelists agreed it should be decriminalized and left to the states to determine regulations.

“I think that we need to decriminalize first time offenses, especially as young people and people of color are serving lengthy sentences for marijuana,” said Olivia Jones, president of College Republicans. “I think it’s absolutely ridiculous.”

When the topic of conversation switched to the Affordable Care Act, the three panelists had more varying views.

Though Smith acknowledged the nuance of the health care debate, she believes that insurers charge clients more because of the tax placed on their companies. She hopes the government will be able to reform the act or replace it with something more effective, she said.

“I don’t think we should straight out repeal it, because it’d be nonsense to not have something to replace it right away,” said Smith, “But I do think that we should alter it.”

For Jones, one concern is the lack of competition within the pharmaceutical industry. Companies drive up the prices, but insurance companies and consumers can’t mandate that those prices come down.

“I think that if we’re going to have a normalized healthcare system, we either have to have normalized healthcare and normalized pharmaceuticals or a free market,” said Jones. “I don’t think that these are issues that can be considered separately.”

Dupont agreed that the issue is a matter of free market versus government intervention, but while Jones disagrees with the Affordable Care Act, Dupont sees merit in it, she said.

“The ACA is the grand American experiment to see if these socialized healthcare systems work in America,” said Dupont.

With every question Plazas asked, the panelists listened to opposing opinions. The panelists did not interrupt or speak over each other.

Jones deemed the night a success, and each of the panelists similarly felt the conversation was productive.

“Although we may have different opinions on things, I do believe it’s nice to come together and be civil about these issues,” said Smith.

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