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ISSUE 120 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/13/2007

Politicians spark debate

By Kelly Wilson
Staff Writer

Friday, April 13, 2007

Minnesota politicians Ember Reichgott Junge '74 and Annette Meeks engaged in partisan debate on Tuesday, April 3 at the Political Awareness Committee's Crossfire Political Debate in Valhalla. Junge, former Democratic Assistant Senate majority leader, and Meeks, a Fifth Congressional District Republican, chronicled personal histories and discussed issues ranging from the Senate's one-billion-dollar tax increase to the racial disparities in the Minnesota public schools.

The event commenced with individual introductions, followed by each woman's personal narrative and a brief overview of their political ideologies. Junge began, identifying her internship with Walter Mondale as paramount to the formation of her political leanings. In 1982, the 29-year-old attorney became the youngest person ever elected to the Minnesota State Senate and held the seat for 18 years.

Launching into a breakdown of her platforms, Junge stressed the need for Democrats to be more unified, especially on the Iraq War, which she hopes will soon be brought to an end. Junge outlined the importance of taxation, which pays for under-funded necessities like education and health care, and her personal quest to increase attention to health care issues.

Meeks, a Republican from the fifth district in Minneapolis, attributed her start in politics to a sixth-grade mock election and the philosophies of Richard Nixon. She went to Washington in the late 1980s and acted as Newt Gingrich's chief vote counter in 1989 when he was elected whip. She stayed with the former Republican Speaker of the House for eight and a half more years. In 1994, after the Republican sweep of Congress, she worked at the Speaker's office as the congressional Chief of Staff.

Meeks told several anecdotes of her Washington experience and then expanded upon her political platforms. She staunchly promoted "civic engagement," stressing what a "great and fragile democracy we live in and that each person must do their part," whether that be voting or working on a campaign. The war in Iraq took center stage in her critique of congressional Democrats, as Meeks argued against cutting funding for troops and depleting their resources.

After each speaker concluded her dialogue, the floor opened for questions. The ratified Senate tax increase of $1 billion, passed on March 31 and aimed at the top-grossing incomes in the state, was a point of contention between the debaters. Junge rallied for the bill's survival, which would grant much needed funding for education and transportation. She also pointed to the bipartisan support that the bill now boasts. Meeks took an opposing stance and criticized the tax increase asover-reaching, one that will affect the lives of every Minnesotan, not simply the upper class.

Charter schools proved to be another focus of discussion for the two politicians. Junge contributed to the legislation that initiated charter schools in the late 1980s and remained steadfast in her promotion of charter school  wide-reaching educational benefits and just funding programs. Meeks echoed her sentiments, saying charters "allow for experimentation and autonomy amidst a decrepit public school system that claims the biggest racial disparity of any city in the United States."

During the 20-minute question session, the debaters also briefly touched upon universal healthcare, which they both support. Junge pushed her personal plans for funding in the state, while Meeks addressed its necessity as well as her reserves with the complex issue.

Most students found the debate to be informative and politically engaging.

Chris Winterfeldt '10 said, "It was interesting. There were a couple of issues I disagreed on but that's to be expected."

Still, some dissatisfaction existed with the politicians' answers. Carmen Cummings '09, who questioned the speakers about charter schools, said, "I do think that both sides were presented well, given the informal structure of the debate. However, I don't think they did a good job answering my question. I think that the issue of funding was poorly addressed  I would have liked it if [they] would have actually explained how the system could be fixed."

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