The Young Democrats and the College Republicans held a debate over contentious legislative issues Monday evening in the Kansas State Student Union.
Three representatives from each club battled it out over tax reform, healthcare and police reform.
The most contentious topic of the debate was police reform. Ian Boyd, sophomore in political science, spoke first for the Young Democrats.
In his opening statements, Boyd said the cause of tension between the public and police lies in the system, not individuals.
“The problem in itself is beyond just a few individuals,” Boyd said. “It’s a systematic problem that I believe starts with police training.”
Boyd argued that solutions to problems in modern policing lie in increasing training hours, introducing training with more emphasis in procedures such as de-escalation and mental health, demilitarizing police forces and the setting up of a system of accountability beyond body cameras.
“Our police officers are supposed to serve and protect the people,” Boyd said. “Let’s give them a system that allows them to do that.”
In the College Republican’s response to Boyd’s opening statements, Benjamin Ristow, junior in history, agreed that better training and accountability is needed, but that achieving those goals is not possible without strong support for police.
“I think that there is a strong push, especially on the left, that we shouldn’t support police at all,” Ristow said.
Without support, police departments will not be able to secure the funds to reform training and accountability systems, Ristow said.
Following Ristow’s response, Rafael Garcia, debate moderator and co-editor-in-chief of the Collegian, moved the debate to discuss issues in modern policing, specifically in regard to interactions between white officers and individuals of color.
Ristow was given the opportunity to answer first for the College Republicans. Ristow’s answer began with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It was, in my opinion, built on a myth of out-of-control murders of innocent, unarmed black suspects by police officers,” Ristow said.
Ristow then said there is an “epidemic” in America of black individuals killing other black individuals, although he did emphasize that racist cops do exist.
In response, Boyd attempted to move the debate away from Black Lives Matter.
“I did not come here to debate Black Lives Matter,” Boyd said. “I came here to debate police reform and solutions that we need, because every time we bring up police reform and the topic goes straight to Black Lives Matter, we are ignoring the root cause of the problem.”
In his response, Ristow said part of the problem, and therefore part of the solution, lies within communities of color, specifically the “broken down” culture in black communities that lack “cohesive family units” and education.
“The community fails to teach its young men respect and provide them with father figures, and rewards itself with higher crime as young men lose respect for the community and the law,” Ristow said.
Boyd said a bulk of the responsibility to improve relations between the public and police officers lies within a change in training.
“They’re trained scared before they even hit the communities they’re supposed to serve,” Boyd said. “The people that are being served are not the ones that serve the police officers.”
In response, Ristow said a portion of the solution lies within communities self-policing to lower the tolerance and frequency of crime.
“The solution can’t just be to stop teaching cops certain policies or teach them better,” Ristow said. “It’s a dual system.
“To say that the culture they’re going into has nothing to do with it is a little disingenuous,” Ristow continued. “Police are facing a culture that is very anti-cop and a culture that accepts crime as a way of life.”
The debate also included discussion on tax reform. The College Republicans were given the opportunity to make opening statements, but deferred and instead responded to a question from Garcia regarding the successes and failures of the tax cuts authorized by Governor Sam Brownback in 2012.
Olivia Rogers, freshman in political science, represented the College Republicans on the topic. Rogers said Brownback’s tax plan was relatively successful in aiding Kansas’s economy despite some failures.
“Overall, there was a growth in economic success in small businesses,” Rogers said. “The tax plan was not unsuccessful, but it was not what Brownback had hoped for, and it did not live up to the actual expectations that we had.”
Rogers attributed the tax cuts’ shortfalls to timing.
“The problems that we saw were because the taxes were cut at the wrong time,” Rogers said. “We went into a recession in oil and agricultural commodities at the same time that taxes were cut. Our economy in general was not doing great, and because of that we saw revenues drop.”
Caleb Vering, freshman in political science and member of the Young Democrats, disagreed; he said the tax cuts were not successful.
“It didn’t end up stimulating the economy whatsoever,” Vering said. “We saw revenues decline; we saw not a lot of improvement in Kansas.”
Vering also refuted Rogers’s argument that the tax cuts helped the economic success of small businesses.
“The Brownback tax cuts inevitably ended up benefiting the more wealthy elite rather than small businesses,” Vering said. “It didn’t really do a whole lot for small businesses because it didn’t do anything to build more revenue.”
The debate then moved on to the potential benefits and issues of expanding Medicaid in Kansas.
Adam Wilkerson, sophomore in political science, spoke on behalf of the Young Democrats. He said the Affordable Care Act outlines and allocates money to the states to expand Medicaid, though Kansas has not taken action to do so due to a veto from the governor.
“Is there any problem with taking money that pretty much belongs to our state, and is allocated by the federal government, and is almost $900 million that can be used to expand Medicaid to help people get health insurance?” Wilkerson said. “I don’t see any problems with that at all.”
The representative for the College Republicans, Evan Steckler, senior in architectural engineering, argued that if Kansas expands Medicaid, the state would face another monetary crisis in the future.
“Once the federal assistance is fully scaled back, especially if more people were to enroll than expected here in Kansas, we would be once again be backed into a budgetary corner,” Steckler said. “We’d either have to raise taxes again, dramatically, or we’d have to make cuts elsewhere to fill the gap. We do not want any more of that in the future.”
Wilkerson acknowledged and conceded to Steckler’s point, saying that expanding Medicaid won’t solve future problems, but it would solve current problems.
“That’s just something we have to decide,” Steckler said. “Are we willing to accept some short-term gratification from the government in exchange for a tough situation later down the line?”
Although each side had disagreements on each subject, Rogers said she felt the debate was successful in bridging the gap between Democrats and Republicans.
“This is one of the best ways to bridge that gap: having discussion and debate where we can be open, share ideas and poke holes in arguments,” Rogers said.