When Reps. Tony Sertich and Marty Seifert go head to head, their platform is often the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Last night, the House majority and minority leaders faced-off in a different venue: Willey Hall.
“Is there a dividing line here?” at least one audience member asked, smirking, as she entered the enormous auditorium.
Despite the crack about the political divide, the idea for a debate between two of the state’s most powerful lawmakers was actually the product of bipartisan support.
In what College Republicans and University-DFL leaders are calling one of the first events they’ve ever sponsored together – in recent history anyway – the major political groups on campus recruited two Minnesota representatives from opposing parties to talk about their stance on issues that matter to college students.
Several other groups on campus were represented at the debate. Collegiates for a Constructive Tomorrow also sponsored the event.
Debate questions, written by students from the participating organizations, touched on topics ranging from tuition costs and health insurance to using a gas tax to better finance transportation infrastructure.
At times, the exchanges became heated, like when Sertich told the audience “I wish Rep. Siefert had read that bill” after Sertich said he didn’t support a gas tax because it’s a form of regressive taxation that “unfairly burdens the lower and middle class.”
Several times snickers could be heard on both sides of the aisle when one representative came up with a particularly clever retort.
Biochemistry senior Casey Solomon, who has conservative views, attended the debate and said “from a purely partisan point of view” that Siefert won the debate.
“But they were both very articulate,” Solomon said. “It was good all around.”
Solomon said Siefert’s general philosophy over the way taxes should be used was very similar to his own philosophy.
Tony Bui, a political science junior who sat with Siefert at the debate and also has conservative views, said he was impressed with the lack of “mud-slinging.”
“They were both just getting their views out there. It was very respectable Ö even Mr. Sertich, you could see where his theater major came into play. He’s a great speaker,” Bui said.
The evening ended with a question about partisanship and progress.
Sertich said he doesn’t like the cookie-cutter approach to politics, where everybody should have to feel the same way about certain issues. He said he welcomes disagreement, “but it must end with compromise and moving the state forward.”
Seifert said he wouldn’t “pander” and say consensus is always optimal.
“The Capitol is not built for votes to be unanimous,” he said.
Julia Krieger, U-DFL secretary and a journalism and gender studies junior, said the comments on bipartisanship stood out most to her.
“I really like his point about howÖ it isn’t possible to characterize all Democrats or Republicans, but it’s the responsibility of our civic leaders to find that middle ground with each other,” she said.
Krieger, who would contend that Sertich did a better job in the debate, said she enjoyed the way the two representatives interacted.
As a politically active student, she said polarization can be incredibly “disenchanting.”
Abdul Magba-Kamara, chairman of College Republicans and a political science junior, appeared to agree, not just about interaction in the state Legislature, but between political groups on campus.
Magba-Kamara said he’d “love to” work on another event with U-DFL, particularly because both organizations are known for breeding the state’s future political leaders.
“When it comes down to it, it’s nice to get together and start working on it now,” he said.