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StudCo hosts congressional candidates

Perriello, Clark discuss current political topics before November election; Hurt decides not to attend debate

Student Council hosted a debate between Rep. Tom Perriello, D-Charlottesville, and independent candidate Jeffrey Clark, a Tea Party member from Danville, Va., in Nau Auditorium last night. Both candidates are running for Perriello's seat in the House of Representatives, which is up for grabs in next week's election. State Sen. Robert Hurt, R-Danville, did not attend the event.

During the hour-long debate moderated by Sociology Prof. Bruce Williams, the two candidates discussed issues such as primary education, the future of social security and immigration reform.

Perriello explained positions he took during his term in office, including expanding education programs to address pre-kindergarten programs as well as primary schooling, the need to create jobs for young adults so they can start paying into the social security system at a younger age and the need to encourage legal immigration into the country.

"We're a nation of immigrants, and we're also a nation of laws," Perriello said. "If there are rules on the books, it's only fair for them to be enforced."

Clark, on the other hand, spoke of making the American dream accessible to those who want to come to this country, reforming social security and lessening government involvement in education programs in favor of parental participation.

"The more dependent we become on government, the sooner we need to look to the government stepping in and not parents," Clark said. "We need to have parental involvement in this process."\nThe debate was streamed live on Student Council's website. Fourth-year College student Matt Cooper, a member of Council's Legislative Affairs Committee that sponsored the debate, said he hoped the debate would inspire students to become more politically active.

"I personally believe that U.Va. students - if they come out to vote - can have a very influential effect on the election," Cooper said. "We think that this is one of the best events that we could have this fall, considering how big the elections are."

Clark reiterated several times that he finds partisanship to be the root of America's problems and argued that his status as an independent candidate frees him from the "fear and uncertainty" that parties use to influence members.\n"I believe that both of our political parties are broken - they're damaged, they're self-serving," Clark said. "People who are not going to be slaves to political parties are the true future of our country."\nPerriello, standing behind a booth opposite of Clark's at the front of the room, expounded his record from his first term in office and highlighted his willingness to vote against the Democratic Party at times.\n"I've not only voted against my own party, I've voted against both parties," Perriello said. "We need more people coming into politics who reject the assumption that you have to come and do things the way they were done before."

The third candidate for the position, Hurt, made clear earlier in the campaign season that he would not participate in a debate with Clark. Williams said at the start of the event that all three were invited but Hurt was "unable to attend."

Clark emphasized Hurt's absence, implying that if he had not chosen to attend, Hurt would have come.

"I'm sorry that my presence prevents other candidates from feeling comfortable and showing up to debate," Clark said.

Clark's presence on the ballot also could prove harmful to Hurt at the polls as the Tea Party member may draw votes from conservatives who might otherwise lend their support to the state senator.\nThe Hurt campaign chose not to comment about Hurt's absence, instead noting that votes for the independent candidate will negatively impact the Republican Party.

"A vote for Jeff Clark is a vote for Tom Perriello and Nancy Pelosi," Hurt's campaign spokesperson Amanda Henneberg said in an e-mail.

The election will take place Nov. 2.

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