UB Student Association hosts town hall meeting with local State Senate candidates
Student debt, the environment and political corruption were some of the issues students wanted local New York State Senate candidates to address.
The Student Association (SA) hosted a town hall meeting in the Student Union Theater with Steven Meyer, the Democratic candidate for the 146th Assembly District, and Amber Small, the Democratic candidate for the 60th Senate District on Tuesday night.
Meyer was originally supposed to debate his opponent, incumbent Republican Ray Walter. Walter failed to show up, therefore the event ended up being an interview rather than a debate. Small’s opponent, Chris Jacobs, also failed to attend the event.
*Tori Roseman, a senior political science major, interviewed each candidate for roughly 45 minutes. Students submitted questions and topics online and SA members vetted the questions before the debate.
The candidates participated in a brief question and answer session with the audience following their interviews.
Dillon Smith, a senior political science and economics major, SA Senate chair and UB Votes Representative, said the discussion topics for the town hall meeting were based on input from students. Student debt was the most popular topic among students, according to Smith.
“When we questioned students on what they wanted to hear, we always heard ‘What about my student loans? What about the debt I’m going to take on after I leave here? What about the job [opportunities] afterwards?’” Smith said.
Meyer was the first to speak and dove into discussion about ethics, the economy and student debt.
He said he would like to see the government take steps toward implementing free public college.
“Students are graduating with what is essentially a mortgage on a home they can’t afford,” Meyer said in regards to student debt, which he said averages $25,000 per student.
Meyer also said the next president should “strongly consider” forgiving all student debt.
Small said she doesn’t think college should be completely free, but it should be more accessible to low-income students.
“It’s supposed to be a public education [at SUNY colleges] and yet we are still saddled with debt that is going to last us decades,” Small said. “A barrier to getting a college degree should never be whether or not [the student] can afford it.”
Meyer said he sees students and families in Western New York struggling and doesn’t think politicians care about helping them. He said politicians are more focused on reelection and money and not focused enough on making a difference for their constituents.
Small also spoke about government corruption and wants to create transparency and accountability.
“It really ticks me off,” Small said. “We send people to represent our needs in Albany and in Washington and they end up serving special interests and not constituents.”
Both Meyer and Small said corruption stems from the current campaign finance system. Meyer and Small both commented on the loopholes that allow corporations to contribute mass amounts of money to campaigns and how these donations go unchecked.
“There are loopholes [in campaign finance] that allow corporations to literally buy elected officials,” Meyer said.
Meyer also said there should be harsher punishments for politicians convicted of corruption.
“If you’re convicted of corruption in New York, you can still collect your tax-payer pension,” Meyer said. “That’s disgusting. We are literally paying for corrupt politicians to continue living. We’re paying their salaries because that’s the way our system works.”
Small said in order to eliminate corruption, the income of state legislators should be limited.
She said by limiting state legislator incomes, you take away the “monetary influence that leads to so much of the corruption.”
“We’re not really sending the most qualified people to represent us, we’re sending the people who can afford to get there,” she said. “If you’re a state legislator, it doesn’t have to be your full-time job. Well, if you’re an attorney, if you’re a developer, that’s a big conflict of interest.”
The event was created to help students step away from the national election and get a glimpse of local and state politics.
Smith said it’s important for students to attend events featuring local political candidates.
“The power of an event like this is to inform students of what they can do and what’s going on [in local politics], to break through the noise and confusion of the national campaign and show there are candidates that they can support more directly at a local level,” he said.
Smith said if students want to become more educated about local politics, they should read The Buffalo News and review the candidates’ platforms on their websites.
Mike Brown, a sophomore political science major and SA Assembly speaker, said he liked how the candidates focused on fixing the political system.
“Both candidates mentioned how New York is the most corrupt state and it’s just atrocious,” Brown said. “We need a complete upgrade and overhaul for how New York State handles their whole political system.”
Brown feels getting involved in local politics is a step in the right direction.
“We’re not going to make any progress on the national level unless we start getting involved on the local level,” Brown said.
*Tori Roseman is the managing editor for The Spectrum
Maddy Fowler is a news staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org