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Pizza & Politics

By Kelson Howerton
On April 25, 2018

From left to right: Paul E. Davis, Rupie Phillips, Marty Gearheart.
Photo Courtesy of Kelson Howerton

On April 19, Concord University’s two political organizations, the College Republicans and Young Democrats, held the bipartisan “Pizza & Politics Townhall” in the State Room of the Student Center.

The event consisted of a meet and greet in which attendees could socialize with candidates and an open forum and series of debates featuring candidates from the U.S. Senate, West Virginia State Congress and House of Delegates primaries. The debates were moderated by College Republicans president Jack Garwood, Young Democrats president Zachary Adkins, and event organizer Sumer Cave. They grilled candidates from each level on issues of national and state importance.

Throughout the event, refreshments were provided, including pizza from Moe’s Restaurant and Café.

The debates kicked off with the U.S. Senate candidates, starting with a video appearance from incumbent Senator Joe Manchin. The video, prepared by his staff for the town hall, discussed Manchin’s history and relationship with the state, veterans needs, education in the state, the opioid epidemic, statewide infrastructure, and improving healthcare. The only senate candidate in attendance was Democratic candidate Paula Jean Swearengin. She was introduced by her son, Concord student Logan Swearengin. Since she was the only candidate, Swearengin answered questions from the moderators alone. Throughout the forum, Swearengin gave her stance on healthcare reform, the border wall, abortion, the opioid crisis, medical and recreational marijuana, gun control, free college education, and the issue of dirty money in politics.

Shortly after Swearengin’s talk, the Congressional debate began. Similar to Manchin, the debate started with a video appearance from Democratic candidate Richard Ojeda. The candidates in attendance were Democratic candidate Paul E. Davis and Republican candidates Rupie Phillips and Marty Gearheart. Ojeda was given the debate questions ahead of time, and was able to answer them alongside the other candidates in attendance through a series of videos he recorded earlier in the day. Similar to the Senate debate, candidates discussed topics such as the opioid crisis, the border wall and DACA, energy in West Virginia, abortion, marijuana, gun control, and state-specific concerns, such as energy issues and Keystone, West Virginia, still lacking clean water.

The debates closed out with the largest of the night, featuring ten candidates from the House of Delegates race. The House candidates in attendance were Republican candidates Zane Lawnhorn and incumbent Joe Ellington for District 27 and Brandon Steele for District 29; Democratic candidates Phoebe Jeffries, Carol Baily, and Lacy Watson for District 27, Andrew Evans and Sandy Shaw for District 28, and Selina Vickers for District 32; and Mountain Party candidate Elliott Pritt for District 32. The panel discussed both national and sate-focused topics such as the place of religion in public schools, the opioid crisis, medical and recreational marijuana, abortion, and gun control.

Dr. Jim White, professor of Political Science at Concord, said he was proud of the students that put the event together. “I thought everybody did a great job,” Dr. White “I thought our students were fantastic, as they always are. The candidates were great. They were very generous with their time; they gave interesting answers. The audience was good. Nights like tonight are great and they show what an important part of this community that Concord is.”

Sumer Cave, who organized the event alongside the College Republicans and Young Democrats and moderated the debates, was happy with the success of the night. “I personally feel relieved,” Cave said. “It was just a lot of energy and effort that was put into the event, and I feel like it really showed because we had a really good turnout and a lot of engagement.”

To watch the full debates, recordings of the U.S. Senate and Congressional Debates can be found on the Facebook page Pizza & Politics Southern WV.

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