For students studying political science — and those simply interested in politics — the gubernatorial debate at the Helene Zelazo Center at UWM was an opportunity most students never have: to experience, in person, a political event of statewide importance.
“Most people experience campaigns and candidates through the media, whether that is in a news story or through a television ad,” said Kathleen Dolan, distinguished professor and chair of the political science department. “But seeing candidates live helps make the process more concrete and students can experience the emotions of the crowd and the reactions of the supporters.”
Numerous students recognized the opportunity and attended the Oct. 26 debate, including Alyssa Molinski, a senior early childhood education major and president of the UWM Student Association.
“The fact that it’s happening on our campus and we have the chance to go for free is a great opportunity to take advantage of,” Molinski said.
This debate, the second and final one before the Nov. 6 election, pitted incumbent Republican Gov. Scott Walker vs. Democrat Tony Evers, the state superintendent of public instruction. It was the second debate of the general election to be held at UWM: Earlier in the month, a debate on campus featured Senate candidates Tammy Baldwin and Leah Vukmir.
Walker and Evers debated health care, immigration, climate change and education. That final topic was of particular interest to the UWM students who attended.
“I’m hoping they will be talking about education because it’s at a public university,” said Daniel Hoeft, a junior majoring in political science.
For Hoeft, his interest is both personal and professional. Hoeft worked on the campaign of Jonathan Brostoff, who represents Milwaukee in the Wisconsin Assembly.
Molinski wanted to hear Evers’ and Walker’s plans were for education in the state, particularly the UW System.
“I think education is political,” Molinski said. “This election will help determine the futures of teachers and students in Wisconsin, whether that is K-12 students or university students.”
Students said they were worried about tuition costs and the loss of UWM faculty in the last several years.
Mohiminul Islam, a graduate student studying chemistry, thought about how his program has been affected by budget cuts.
“I would expect something beneficial for the people in education and for the UW System because we have seen severe budget cuts,” Islam said. “Being an R1 research university I think is important, but also for us to maintain that status.”
The impact on the students
Students agreed that the results of the gubernatorial election will have an impact on their daily lives. One reason many students cited for wanting to attend was they felt like they had something at stake, and to see what Evers and Walker were like in person.
It’s important to see “what they have to say and then holding them accountable to what they say, so I feel like I have a stake in it,” Hoeft said.
Islam is from Bangladesh and not a U.S. citizen. But he knows that the election will affect him while he is finishing his doctorate over the next three years.
After going to the debate, Islam was confident that Wisconsin voters would choose the best candidate for maintaining the excellence at UWM.
“We take pride in becoming one of the best research universities in America,” Islam said. “I hope whoever wins the election will help us on maintaining that pride.”
Molinski was happy to hear education occupy a large portion of the debate. And she was happy to see a contingent of students in the audience.
“There were a lot of students in the audience, which was great to see,” Molinski said.