By Nick Diamantides
Many university students don’t have the time to attend a candidates forum, which often means that they feel alienated from the political process. On Tuesday (Oct. 12) a political forum came to the students at California State University Long Beach. About 250 students attended the event, which took place from about 11am to 2pm in the ballroom of the Student Union building.
Two candidates for California’s 37th Congressional District– incumbent Democrat Laura Richardson and Independent Nick Dibs– spoke during the forum’s first session. Republican candidate Star Parker was not in attendance because of a scheduling conflict. Ken Arnold, Democratic candidate for California’s 46th Congressional District, which is mostly in Orange County, spoke during the second session. Incumbent Republican Dana Rohrabacher also did not attend the event.
Anthropology Professor Ron Loew, who also helps lead The Center for Peace and Social Justice on campus, was the lead organizer of the forum. “It’s good for students to be able to hear candidates talking at length about topics instead of just hearing a 60-second sound bite in a political ad,” he said. “I am particularly interested in registering students to vote, and I think most of them will vote along the lines that I favor. Most of them will vote Democratic.”
Communications Studies Professor Ann Johnson served as moderator of the forum, and she agreed with Loew on the importance of the event. “First of all, these are the districts where most of our students live, and they need to have the opportunity to see the people who are running to represent them,” she said. “It’s also valuable for our students to get a chance to ask questions and be vocal in the political process. Our students are busy, and we appreciate that some candidates are able to come to the heart of the campus in the middle of the day so our students can hear what they have to say.” She added that it is also important to give Independent candidates, like Dibs, a forum where they can express their views since they do not usually have the financial resources to publicize their views to the same level that mainstream candidates do.
In his opening remarks, Dibs noted that the United States faces many crises and problems. “This is a very important election, and I am not bought and paid for by the lobbyists,” he said. “The question in this election is status quo versus positive change.” Dibs insisted that both the Democratic and Republican parties put the needs of the elite, the wealthy and the special interests above the needs of the people. “We need to send somebody to Washington to represent the needs of the people,” he said, adding that Richardson was a professional career politician.
In her opening remarks, Richardson disputed that accusation. “I am not a career politician,” she said. “Like many of you, I had to work my way through school.” After giving a brief description of her education and employment background, she insisted that she has always been in touch with the common people of this region, and she is very aware of the challenges faced by average citizens, as well as business leaders. “It’s important to make decisions that will make sense for everybody, and that is what I focus on,” she said.
After the candidates’ opening statements, Johnson asked a series of questions. She noted that, despite the federal stimulus dollars that have gone to California State University system, in the past two years, students at CSULB and state universities across the state have faced a string of tuition hikes, fee hikes, fewer courses to choose from, and dwindling student support services. Johnson asked, “What support do you believe the federal government should give to the state universities and students?”
“We need to do everything we can to help those who want to get an education,” Richardson replied. “The difference should not be that they cannot afford it. Cost should not be a prohibitive factor in getting an education.” She added that one of the mistakes made in the federal stimulus funding was that the money went to the governor first. “Our governor was too busy trying to use that money to plug the hole in our unbalanced state budget,” she said, adding that federal funds that were intended for universities were diverted to other state programs.
Richardson also noted that she is currently fighting to make sure that federal money intended for colleges and universities is actually given to those institutions.
Dibs said the biggest reason for the federal government’s failure to properly fund education is the amount spent on the military. “We spend billions and trillions of dollars on war,” he said. “Fifty-nine percent of the federal discretionary budget is going to the Pentagon. It’s a question of priorities. Education needs to be a national security issue. We need to bring our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan in the near future and spend the money here at home. Without raising taxes, we can lower university tuitions and hire more teachers.”
CSULB will host another candidate forum on Friday, Oct. 15 at the Walter Pyramid. Candidates for 54th District Assembly, including incumbent Bonnie Lowenthal and her opponent Martha Flores Gibson, have been invited to speak at 3pm. Richardson, Dibs and Parker are expected to speak at 4:15pm.