By EMILY HOLLINGSWORTH
Approximately 15 University of Mary Washington students were given an unexpected treat on Friday, Oct. 31. This Friday, Senator Mark Warner arrived for an impromptu meeting with the UMW Young Democrats.
Students brought lunch and were ready to ask questions to the then-candidate. Warner shook each student’s hand and introduced himself before sitting down to begin the meeting, which had just been announced the night before.
According to senior Benjamin Hermerding, president of the UMW Young Democrats, he received a call from the campaign at 6 p.m. Thursday evening.
“They said they were traveling from Newport News and that they would be driving through Fredericksburg, and they asked if they could swing by,” Hermerding said.
As a photographer took pictures of the Senator and the students, Warner discussed his primary goals as a potentially re-elected senator.
Lowering the national debt was a key issue in the meeting, with Warner explaining the national debt rose billions of dollars over the last 60 years.
He said that both parties were at fault and explained how bipartisanship could reverse the national debt.
Warner noted that while he has been criticized for partnering with Republican officials, he believed that a joint effort between both parties would solve the issues the country faces today.
“We don’t have to solve the issue of national debt overnight,” Warner said after the meeting. “But problems will not be solved unless both parties work together.”
Warner also discussed lowering student debt. He asked if any of the UMW students in the meeting had student loans. Several of them raised their hands.
According to a survey by Fidelity.com, in 2013 a college student had an average of $35,200 dollars in debt upon graduation.
The first in his family to go to college, Warner took out student loans in order to pay for his education at George Washington University.
Warner proposed an income-based student loan repayment system he formed with Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, which would adjust student payment based off an individual student’s income. According to Warner, if a particular student entered the workforce following college and made $30,000 a year, 10 percent of that amount, or $3,000, would be used to pay off a student loan.
After he spoke, Warner invited students to ask questions and to comment about the goals he outlined.
Paige Mckinsey, president of Feminists United on Campus, said that equal pay for women should be incorporated into the discussion of lowering student debt.
Warner spoke about his three daughters, who are between the ages of 20 and 24, and agreed that equal pay needed to be taken into account when discussing student debt.
Warner also discussed “crowd funding” initiatives, which would allow people to advertise their businesses online and let others invest in the business electronically. According to Warner, this venue could “empower women and minorities who may not have the resources to expand their businesses through traditional methods.”
Other students voiced concerns about issues such as raising the minimum wage and bringing more accountability into the public school system.
Once students finished asking questions, Warner thanked them for hosting him at such short notice. After applause, the UMW Young Democrats gave Warner a UMW Young Democrats t-shirt. Warner stayed after the meeting to talk with students and take photos.
According to junior political science major Calli Burkett, this was not the first time that they had met Senator Warner. Members of the UMW Young Democrats were also invited to Warner’s property in King George County on Sept. 6 for the “Almost Annual Pig Roast.”
According to Hermerding, Warner provided the students with food and activities during the event, spoke with students and even signed their plywood board with the club’s symbol, a donkey, on its center.
Hermerding appreciated Warner’s vision and his focus on issues that are important to the group, such as student debt.
“We’ve all faced that burden,” Hermerding said.
Warner has visited UMW several times before, including being the speaker at the spring commencement ceremony in 2004 as governor. He noted how the University has expanded over the past 10 years.
“It’s a great school,” Warner said. “It’s been cool to see the development taking place at the school over the past decade and how cool it has become.”