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VSU enters ‘Great Debate’

 VSU’s College Democrats and Republicans took part in Phi Alpha Delta’s “Great Debate” on Tuesday night, where they gave their take on many hot-button topics in front of a packed Student Union Ballroom.

 Dr. Jim Peterson, head of VSU’s political science department partook in asking questions involving HOPE Scholarship, immigration reform, health care reform and foreign policy.

 The Republicans and Democrats each had their own viewpoints concerning the HOPE Scholarship and the future of it.

 “There have been some suggestions, such as video lottery terminals, and that has been hotly debated in the last few months in the General Assembly,” Alex Thomas, former College Democrat president, said. “Our governor, Nathan Deal, has come out against video gambling, but I for one am in support of it as long as that money goes towards education of college students in Georgia.”

 Thomas went on to state further suggestions to help ensure the future of education.

 “Another suggestion [would be a] cigarette tax increase,” Thomas said. “You know, smoking and alcohol have always been one of the first areas that people look for, in terms of raising taxes, and a lot of people refer to it as ‘sin taxes’, and also, with Sunday alcohol sales, we can increase the taxes on alcohol specifically on that one day to go towards the education of college students in Georgia.”

 His colleague, Kelli Cody, College Democrat president, also added a few ideas towards keeping the HOPE viable.

 “I know some of you don’t like some of the new regulations on the HOPE Scholarship,” Cody said. “I’ve been here a while, so when I received the HOPE Scholarship, there were a little different requirements, but I think that making the requirements tougher is going to help reduce the number of money that needs to be taken out.

 “I know that sounds terrible, but in my opinion, it is something that needs to be done, if anything, it will encourage kids to work harder and to get those grades up so they can get the HOPE Scholarship.”

 The Republicans also had a few things to say regarding it.

 “The HOPE Scholarship is the largest merit-based state-financed scholarship program in the United States,” Preston Porter, secretary of the VSU College Republicans, said. “And this is what gives many of us our education, and there are many different ways that they are talking about to get to finance this thing.”

 “One of the most important things to look at is where this money comes from, and it comes from lottery revenues. Now, the current percentage on lottery revenues to beneficiaries and education is 35% to 65%, which means that only 35% of lottery revenue goes towards the HOPE Scholarship,” Porter said.

 “Also, the HOPE Scholarship includes Pre-K level children, so what Governor Deal has done with revamping the HOPE Scholarship is insure that Pre-K children will be able to go to Pre-K, but at the same time, ensuring that certain college students that succeed and do well in school can afford their education,” he added.

 With that background information, Porter explained how he felt the HOPE could be funded.

 “One of the things we can do to be able to afford this and to be able to offer it to more students is we can actually increase the amount of revenue from the lottery that goes towards education and not towards beneficiaries,” Porter said. “Also, Governor Deal has also created the Zell Miller scholarship in lieu of raising the GPA for the HOPE Scholarship.”

 “Many people that I go to school with actually get the Zell Miller scholarship, and it pays for full tuition rather than just the 90% that HOPE pays for.”

 The Zell Miller Scholarship, which Porter explained had “more strenuous requirements” than HOPE, requires a 3.7 GPA along with a 1200 on the Math and Reading sections, and a 26 composite score on the ACT.

 Gas prices were also discussed, and the Democrats expressed what they viewed as a “common misconception”; the president was responsible for high gas prices.

 “That is completely not true at all,” Cody said. “It’s all actually speculators that rise gas prices, also holidays – I was just down in Savannah, and I saw the gas go up 20 cents and go back down 20 cents because there was an increase of people in the town, and also conflicts in Syria and other Middle eastern countries causes speculators to increase the price of gasoline, essentially, so really, the president doesn’t directly affect the price of gasoline.”

 Cody went on to say that the demand of gasoline is too high, and changes to people’s transportation habits could be changed. In addition, she also discussed the Keystone XL pipeline, explaining the environmental disadvantages to the pipeline, while stating that most output from the pipeline would not be usable by the US.

 The Republicans disagreed.

 “The Republican stance is that the president should support the pipeline,” Political Director Jordan Lee, said. “There are regulators that control the gas prices, but the president can still affect this process through legislation.”

College Republican Chairman Ryan Baerwalde offered a different Republican approach.

 “To put it simply, at some point, we have to start making sacrifices in either the economy or the ecology,” he said. “At some point, the American people really would like to see lower gas prices, they have spoken out, and President Obama’s approval rating has dropped to about 41%, probably due to a lot of the American people wanting lower gas prices, and as we have said, he has affected gas prices in some way, and he has to be held responsible for that.”

Further, the two groups were asked how their respective parties could find victory in the November elections, with the Democrats feeling to be in a great position – the best in years, according to them, while Republicans felt confident that the party would unite behind whoever was chosen.

“One thing that’s helping Barack (Obama) right now is that he’s kind of sitting pretty and making money and getting ready while the Republicans fight their little battles in the primaries,” Cody said.

 “You have a candidate that should back out and two that are kind of going at it and may actually end up going to convention which is only going to help the Democrats more.”

Baerwalde was there to remind the Democrats that there was one more candidate, and that the situation for the Republicans wasn’t as bad as previously mentioned.

“First of all, I’d like to point out that there are currently four candidates, and I believe the most often forgot is Ron Paul,” Baerwalde said.

This statement brought applause from the crowd.

“As far as sitting pretty, I would like to point out that the Republicans recently took over the House of Representatives, so I don’t think they’re sitting pretty as they may think, and as far as the issue of fighting that seems to be going on with the Republicans in the primary, I think a lot of that has to do with the media and how they’re framing it.

“Truly, I do believe that whether a nomination comes within the next couple of weeks or goes all the way to the GOP convention, all Republicans will unite behind whomever that may be,” Baerwalde said. “The GOP will be united against current President Obama, due to the fact that a lot of the stuff he has done, he has not fulfilled a lot of his promises, and not only that, but he has actually doubled the deficit that President George W. Bush did in his entire eight years in office, and all of these things are definitely going to draw independents more towards a GOP candidate.”

In addition, the Democrats and Republicans also debated a host of other topics such as unemployment, immigration reform, healthcare reform and national defense.

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