Political Science Society-Town Hall Meeting

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By: Michelle Davidson

In a place where freedom of speech is encouraged, representatives from various Florida districts and political seats started a dialogue of issues so personal, controversial and divisive that they could not be confined in the Gooding Auditorium. As students, community members, business leaders and politicians made their way out of the auditorium on Sept. 27, the discussions continued past the campus boundaries.

The Political Science Society and the League of United Latin American Citizens of northeast Florida held their first Hispanic Heritage Month town hall meeting. Florida representatives and candidates were invited to this event to share their thoughts about issues concerning the Hispanic community and students of northeast Florida.

The first topic was health care. According to the Florida State Health Department, 70 percent of all emergency room visits by Hispanics were those that could have been prevented or helped with primary care. Corrine Brown, representative for Florida’s third congressional district and candidate for the fifth district, spoke on how to solve these concerns.

“I voted for the health care,” Brown said. “We, in comparison to any other country, spend about 17 to 20 percent of our gross national product on health care. Other countries spend 11 percent. We’ve been trying to get health care in this country for over 75 years and I am very happy that I was involved in making sure that it passed. We need to improve it and move forward. ”

LeAnne Kolb, Republican candidate running against Brown for the fifth district, had a different opinion.

“I believe that once the federal government got into health care and into insurance, it made it so that health costs escalated to the point of no return and that’s where we are right now,” Kolb said. “The health care mess that we’re in has to be repealed and has to not be replaced, but we have to get government out of the system altogether. Federal government has no business telling people how to have health care.”

After a polite applause, Brown disagreed with Kolb’s position, mentioning government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare and explaining a method she called “reverse Robin Hood,” where working people give tax breaks to the rich. She claimed that the health care plan has helped students in Florida.

“Jacksonville University is in my district,” Brown said. “I asked the students at the University of Florida how many students could stay on their family plan because of the health care and 12,000 hands went up. Families have benefited from passing the health care plan.”

Other topics were more closely related to the Hispanic community, such as language barriers and immigration laws. One issue debated was whether or not Hispanic immigrants should be able to pay in-state tuition at Florida colleges.

“Their families made a choice to come to the US, to come to Florida. If they did everything they needed to do, were in school and could show their homes were within the state of Florida, they deserve to pay in-state tuition and they deserve the opportunity to continue their education and become productive citizens and adults within our community,” Representative Mia Jones said.

Though many of the issues were specific to the Hispanic community, politicians noted that their issues were similar to the issues of every race, culture and group in America.

“I think the issues the Hispanic community in northeast Florida cares about are no different than the ones that I care about, which is how you grow this economy, get jobs back again and make sure that we all have a fair shake on the American dream,” Florida state senate district 4 candidate Nancy Soderber said.

The Political Science Society wanted students to have the opportunity to meet and interact with their local representatives. Since the November 6 elections are approaching, Illiana Tidd, president of the Political Science Society, expressed the importance of being informed on current issues.

“These are the people who are going to be deciding the laws that we’re going to abide by,” Tidd said. “It’s important for students to understand what their issues are and what they’re going to vote like so that they know how they’re going to be represented in the state and local levels. These are the people who are representing us. They are hired and elected to represent their constituents. We, as students, are the constituency. They’re the face of us.”

Tidd said the event went well with a turnout of about 100 people from not only JU but also local Hispanics and students from University of North Florida. Her favorite part of the event was when the audience was able to ask questions to the representatives. When a student from UNF discussed education, Jon Heymann, a candidate for school board district 7, responded.

“There are no minority brains, there are no minority abilities and there are no minority dreams; every kid has the same chance,” Heymann said. “If a professor was inspiring to you, we need to replicate that more and more. Everybody can remember a great teacher. We ought to be able to remember ten of them or twenty of them, not just one. And that’s where I think we have really failed many of the students, especially minority students.”

Will Torres, vice president of LULAC, reminded the audience and politicians that no matter what the issues, efforts or campaigns are, unless there is a focus on the Hispanic community and their concerns, the nation will forego a prominent force.

“Hispanics are a large potential resource here in Jacksonville that are not being engaged. We can point out to the recent election and we can see that Hispanics are going to be an increasing influential force in national politics and gradually over time, Hispanics will become an influential force here in Jacksonville. So please, let’s start the dialogue.”

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