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An experiment in civility and substance

Chris Fedalei and Rep. Trey Gowdy discussed campaign issues including finance reform and immigration

Shamael Johar ’19 thought she had her mind made up, but Monday’s Conversation gave her some food for thought.

“I came in thinking one way, but now I’m not sure how I will vote,” said Johar, a biology major from Greenville. “Listening to the comments, it seemed as though their foundations were pretty much the same… I saw Gowdy in a new light.”

Questions were submitted by political science majors and the general public prior to the event.
Questions were submitted by political science majors and the general public prior to the event.

The four South Carolina Congressional candidates shared their platforms and points of view during “A Conversation with South Carolina Congressional Candidates: An Experiment in Civility and Substance” Monday, Oct. 24, in the Watkins Room of the Trone Student Center.

The event featured Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) and Democratic challenger Chris Fedalei in the 4th Congressional District race, along with Sen. Tim Scott (R) and Democratic candidate Thomas Dixon in the U.S. Senate race. Furman Professor of Political Science Danielle Vinson moderated the discussion, attended by a full house of more than 300 students, faculty, staff, OLLI members, and Greenville residents.

“Civility and substance has been in short supply in this campaign,” said Vinson. “We wanted the candidates to come together and show that it’s possible to have a civil, substantive conversation about important political issues even when we disagree with one another.”

The conversation was held in three parts, two sessions with candidates from each race, followed by a final session with questions for all candidates. Questions were submitted in advance by everyone from Furman political science majors to ladies who approached Vinson at the grocery store.

Gowdy and Fedalei tackled topics including international trade, institutional racism in the criminal justice system, long-term health of the Social Security system, immigration policies, and the most requested issue from citizens, campaign finance reform.

Education funding, gun violence and the handling of the President’s Supreme Court nomination of Judge Merrick Garland by the Senate were key issues addressed at length by Scott and Dixon. Trading a few jabs along the way, all four candidates shared their perspective of their roles in representing their constituencies.

Rep. Trey Gowdy and Democratic candidate Thomas Dixon
Rep. Trey Gowdy and Democratic candidate Thomas Dixon

Though he won’t be voting in the South Carolina election, Brett Sullivan ’18 of Middleton, N.J., was eager to hear the candidates’ views.

“It was such a great opportunity to hear from all the candidates right here on campus,” said Sullivan, a double major in political science and economics. “It was so interesting, not like the presidential debates, and it was a lot more civil.”

For Rachel Cooke ’19, the debate solidified her vote for the upcoming election. In the meantime, she said she and other members of the College Democrats are working hard to get fellow students excited about the upcoming election through Debate Watch parties and word of mouth.

“We’re trying to be really active,” said Cooke, a chemistry major from Greenville.

Furman University is also competing against nine other schools, from The Citadel to Samford University, as part of the SoCon Votes Challenge this fall, said Sulaiman Ahmad ’18, student leader for the challenge. The political science major has been working on a plan to promote civic engagement by increasing voter registration and turnout among students.

“We’re doing our best to get the vote out,” said Ahmad, a political science major from Greenville. “Voting is your voice.”

The event, part of Furman’s Cultural Life Program, was sponsored by Furman’s Department of Political Science, College Democrats, College Republicans, and the Furman Debate Society.

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