Senatorial candidates discuss education, Prop. 200 at debate
Republican Sen. John McCain and his challenger for the Arizona Senate seat, Democrat Stuart Starky, discussed issues ranging from education to the legalization of marijuana during Friday's debate at Gallagher Theater.
The debate, which was a town hall format including questions from audience members and moderators, remained friendly, with McCain, who is running for his fourth Senate term, and Starky, an eighth-grade math teacher, exchanging jokes in front of a packed theater that left some people waiting outside.
Much of the debate, which was moderated by Alistair Chapman, ASUA president, Caitlin Hall, editor in chief of the Arizona Daily Wildcat, and Andrew Record, news director of KAMP student radio, focused on education issues. McCain said every high school graduate in Arizona should have the right to some form of higher education.
Starky, who said he went to college on Pell Grants and loans, took a more radical position, saying he thought a college education should be free for everyone.
"Why do we only care about you until you're 17?" he said. "We'll break even: If someone goes to college, they come out making $40,000 and will pay taxes for the next 30 years. If someone doesn't go to college, they're making $15,000 a year and not contributing much to the system."
McCain also talked about the No Child Left Behind Act and the need to teach English to Spanish-speaking students so that they are on an even level with other students in the classroom.
"Education to our children in Arizona was failing despite the best efforts of wonderful people like Mr. Starky," McCain said. "We have to do things differently, and No Child Left Behind, I think, will contribute to that."
Starky disagreed, saying No Child Left Behind is a failure.
"The most important thing we need is teachers who care and who say, 'Yes, you can,'" he said, "No Child Left Behind does not help teachers teach in the classroom, and it doesn't help students learn."
McCain said he would work to expand Pell Grants and other forms of financial aid.
Erin Blomquist, agriculture and biosystems engineering senior, said she plans on going to graduate school and is worried about grants and financial aid being available.
Blomquist said she thought Sen. McCain did a better job of addressing the issue.
"More grants are more realistic than a free college education. The bill would never pass, it would be too expensive," Blomquist said.
The candidates also discussed the legalization of marijuana.
Starky said he supports the decriminalization, if not the legalization, of marijuana even though he said his wife disagreed with him.
This incited cheers and applause from the audience.
McCain said he is against decriminalization of marijuana, but supports expanded rehabilitation treatment for first-time offenders.
Daniel Dempsey, economics junior, said although he would like to see the legalization of marijuana, overall he thinks McCain is a better candidate.
"I'm a Democrat, but I like McCain. I think he address important issues and I've never heard of the other guy before," he said.
McCain and Starky both said they oppose Proposition 200, an Arizona initiative that would deny state services to those who fail to prove U.S. citizenship.
"I understand the frustration of Arizonans, especially southern Arizonans," McCain said. "Things are terrible, and we've got to fix it. But we're not going to fix it until we have comprehensive immigration reform."
Starky said his great-great grandparents immigrated to America and that he supports an immigration policy that allows anyone to move to the United States.
The only sharp exchange between McCain and Starky concerned their stance on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Both McCain and Starky came out against the amendment.
Although many Republicans, including President Bush, have endorsed the amendment, McCain said although he's a strong believer in heterosexual marriages he thinks each state should be able to decide whose marriages are recognized.
Upon hearing this, Starky leaned forward and said, smiling, "And you haven't endorsed my guy for president for what reason, Senator?"
The audience broke out in laughter and applause.
"This is the first time in American history that a president of the United States specifically tried to use our Constitution to discriminate against a group of people," Starky said, "The president should be ashamed of himself."
McCain shot back, criticizing Sen. John Kerry for voting along with "a handful of far-left liberals," against the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows states to define marriage.
Starky said this is because Kerry, like him, thinks it's a decision between two people and not the state's decision.
The issue of Iraq was not brought up until closing statements.
"We found out on Sept. 11, much to our dismay, that we are not safe. I believe this president is most qualified to lead us in that fight. I want to help him in that effort," McCain said.
Starky said the handling of the war in Iraq is the primary reason he wants to unseat McCain.
"I believe the most important thing we can do before we send a soldier to war is tell them that they are going for the right reason and they are told the truth," Starky said the Senate did not seek the truth before the United States went into Iraq.
"I want you to know the first thing I will do as a U.S. senator is to stand on the floor of the Senate and work on policy to bring our children home," Starky said to audience applause.