Students discuss local issues at ‘Hot Button Issues Debate’
By Ray Garcia
In contrast to the relaxed ambiance of the Underground Coffeehouse, the Hot Button Issues Debate created a fiery, excited buzz within the crowd.
“Debates are really important in a college setting because people should be able to speak their mind, regardless of other people’s opinions on that,” freshman Ryan Meredith said. “It’s your right to say what you want to say. Whether it’s well-recepted or not.”
Western’s AS Representation and Engagement program and the Speech and Debate team put on this nonpartisan debate to get students involved in local politics, as well as informing attendees on issues affecting Whatcom County.
Serena Fitzgerald is a member of Western’s Speech and Debate team.
“It’s important for students to be involved in politics especially because there’s a huge student population in Whatcom county, but politicians tend to ignore student issues,” Fitzgerald said.
One of the first issues brought up regarded the redevelopment of the waterfront. The project would address contamination problems and work towards developing the 237 acres into a more updated neighborhood.
The speakers debated on the pros and cons of the project, but seemed to put an emphasis on the effects that the plan would have on housing.
“People who live by the waterfront area that work low wage jobs or working-class jobs tend to rely on housing that’s relatively inexpensive in the area. Development of the area will likely increase property prices,” Fitzgerald said. “This will probably be bad for both the students wanting to live around Western as well as individuals who need inexpensive housing.”
The following debate addressed the Bellingham City Council’s decision to not be called a Sanctuary City— a city that limits its cooperation with the federal government to enforce immigration laws.
Regarding the decision, Dana Oviedo, member of the debate team, said, “It’s not about illegal people— that’s not a thing. It’s about protecting your neighbors and protecting your friends so everybody can prosper in the city.”
In the final debate, the speakers touched on Whatcom’s estimated $100 million plan for a new jail that would improve the current building’s state of disrepair and increase the holding capacity. The controversy over the project resulted in two options that included accepting that this plan isn’t financially feasible or changing the bail system to avoid overcrowding.
The Hot Button Issues Debate provided various perspectives on the proposed plans.At the end, attendees got a general overview of the current politics within Whatcom County.