By SOPHIA MALDONADO
In a debate at UMW’s Stafford Campus on Sept. 5, two candidates fought for control over the 28th District of Virginia’s Senate seat.
Richard Stuart, the Republican incumbent, ran on a platform centered around transportation and decongestion of roads, support for the Second Amendment and anti-abortion movement. His Democratic opponent, Qasim Rashid, campaigned for access to healthcare, ensuring equal rights for women and the LGBTQ+ community and pro-abortion rights.
Moderating the debate was Dr. Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at UMW.
The candidates discussed student debt and the possibility of loan forgiveness. The opening question on debt forgiveness was directed at Rashid, due to a tweet he shared regarding his experience with his own law school loans and his desire to cancel student debt.
Rashid talked about the injustice he sees in the government’s lending of money.
“Since the 1970s the government has bailed out the banks and Wall Street and corporations to the tune of over $10 trillion… Meanwhile, while the government loans these corporations money…they do so at 0 to 1 percent interest,” said Rashid. “But when it comes to our next generation of the middle class they do it at 6 to 7 to 8 percent interest.”
“The government is picking winners and losers. The winners are those who are already extraordinarily wealthy and the losers are those that are desperately trying and clawing to get up to the middle class,” said Rashid.
Stuart’s beliefs concerning debt forgiveness align with the values he was taught as a child.
“[I] was taught that your word means something and when you make a commitment you honor that commitment. When you borrow money to go to school—college, law school, you’re making a commitment to pay that money back, and then to turn around and say I shouldn’t have to pay that back…is flat wrong,” said Stuart.
Several UMW students attended the debate.
“It was interesting to see the incumbent respond to issues and how a new guy responds to it. And I feel like it might have been not so evenly matched in terms of straight facts, but it was still fascinating to hear from both candidates,” said Olivia Harrington, a sophomore political science major.
Abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment were also discussed by the candidates. When asked whether or not the amendment should be ratified, Stuart responded that he would vote for it, but only if it contained abortion neutral language.
“The real issue that has come up with the Equal Rights Amendment is this, is not so much about equal rights, it’s about tax payer funded abortion… I support equal rights for everybody and if we could get abortion neutral language into the Equal Rights Amendment I would vote for it,” said Stuart. “[I’m] pro-life and it’s just that simple.”
Rashid disagreed with Stuart’s take on the Equal Rights Amendment.
“The idea that we need abortion neutral language is a red herring; 37 states have already ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, and this issue didn’t come up because it’s a new issue concocted as an excuse to deny equal rights to women,” said Rashid.
Rashid further claimed to not believe Stuart’s commitment to equal rights.
“In 2010 through this current assembly he has consistently voted against legislation that would ban discrimination for women and for the LGBTQ+ community,” said Rashid.
Stuart defended himself against Rashid’s comments.
“I have not voted consistently to discriminate against anyone. The only thing that I voted against was the Marriage Amendment because I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. You look at my other votes for the LGBT community, I’ve voted to give everybody equal rights,” said Stuart.
Following the debate, Sam Hartz, junior American studies major and president of UMW Young Democrats, shared his views.
“I thought it was a great turnout for people, seems like everyone came out. I look forward to having Rashid on campus for an event. I thought Rashid did a fantastic job…especially once the debate started going, he shone through,” said Hartz.
Afterwards, both candidates had a message to share with young or first-time voters.
“An important man once said that nations cannot be reformed without the reformation of the youth,” said Rashid. “And so, I would ask them [young voters] to reflect over the power they’ve been given to vote and to exercise that power and grab everyone they know and bring them. And I would ask them if they would want to get involved in a campaign, just to reach out, we would love to have them.”
Stuart said, “The message is very clearly that they [young voters] need to get involved in their community and they need to vote for whoever they think represents their values and what they want to do. I think it’s incredibly important in the US that the younger you start the better it gets.”
Commenting on the vitality of civic engagement, sophomore political science major Patrick Healy shared his thoughts.
“I think it’s good to see candidates discussing ideas about what they can do for their community even if we don’t always agree with it. I think it’s something that we need a bit more in this country right now in our present political climate,” said Healy.