The Boston Intercollegiate Government hosted two U.S. Senate candidates, incumbent Senator Edward J. Markey ‘68, J.D. ‘72, and his Republican challenger, Kevin O'Connor J.D. ‘89, in a virtual town hall event titled “Youth Engagement and The 2020 Election” on Oct. 21, moderated by Dennis Wieboldt, MCAS ‘22. The event occurred just thirteen days before the Nov. 3 election.
Senator Markey was the first to have the floor for 30 minutes, which included time for the candidates to speak freely and answer questions from moderator Wieboldt. He began by outlining that this is a turning point for the country and that “the soul of our nation is on fire.”
“I am running to make sure that I and Joe Biden win, so that starting Jan. 20, 2021, there will be justice in the Oval Office,” Markey asserted.
The first question posed by Wieboldt was, “Climate change is an existential threat to humanity, considering the lack of bipartisanship in Congress, how can you as United States senator leverage your position to deliver successful legislation that garners support from both sides of the political aisle?”
Markey responded by outlining his role in introducing the Green New Deal with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He noted the bitter criticism it received from Republicans, Fox News, President Donald Trump, and the oil, gas, and coal industries.
Markey declared, “They called it socialism because we said the planet was dangerously warming. We said that we can unleash renewable technologies and create millions of new jobs.”
Markey further argued that the oil, gas, and coal industries have been enjoying socialism through the tax breaks and subsidies they have been receiving for the past 100 years. He emphasized how tax breaks like those could instead be used to bolster renewable energy like wind, solar, electric cars, and battery storage technologies. The benefits, he said, would include energy-efficient technologies for the agricultural, industrial, and commercial sectors.
The next question presented by Wieboldt was, “If Democrats are unable to control the House, the Senate, and the White House, how can we move Climate Change Legislation forward without supermajorities in both chambers? Are there any parts of the Green New Deal or other Climate Change legislation that you think both sides can get together on?”
Before answering the question, Markey highlighted how unlikely he thought it would be that the Democrats would not control at least one of those parts of the government come November. From his perspective though, if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell controls the Senate, nothing will change because of his connections to the coal industry.
“That party is pretty much a wholly-owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry… If Donald Trump is still president, we have no progress. If Mitch McConnell is still running the Senate, progress would be extremely limited,” Markey asserted.
“The age of incrementalism must be over when you deal with an existential threat,” he said.
Markey gave the examples of the wildfires out west, the increasing surge in hurricanes on the east coast, and, locally, the fact that Massachusetts coasts have the second-fastest warming body of water behind the Arctic Ocean. The impacts of warming on our shores will be detrimental to the local fishing economies, as cod and lobster are already moving up north to Maine and Canada.
The next topic was healthcare. “The Affordable Care Act allows children to remain on their parents' healthcare until the age of 26. What is your vision to make sure we are able to protect people with preexisting conditions and allow all Americans to have access to affordable healthcare?” Wieboldt asked.
Markey credited the improvements that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has produced since its signing in 2010, including 20 million more Americans having health insurance, 120 million people having extra protections like pre-existing conditions coverage, a lifetime medical bill cap, and children remaining on their parents' insurance until they turn 26.
The next topic was the Supreme Court and the recent nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, who has since been confirmed.
“If they steamroll through Amy Coney Barrett in the next week, [it will be] in violation with everything the republicans said back in 2016 with regard to Barack Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland, where they said it is unconscionable to ever appoint a Supreme Court Justice in the final year of a president’s term. Well, of course they are going to nominate one in the final 45 days of a president’s term because hypocrisy is what this party is all about,” Markey remarked.
Markey went on to argue that the Republican party’s action in the past four years amounts to court-packing. Therefore, the only way to balance the court is to abolish the filibuster rule and to begin the discussion of expanding the Supreme Court. Having a 6-3 conservative majority Supreme Court, appointed in this manner, would demand a Democrat response to balance the court, argued Markey.
The next question referred to criminal justice reform. Markey credited his co-sponsorship of Sen. Cory Booker’s Next Step Act which aims to transform criminal justice and adjust budgets to invest in communities, rather than punishment.
“In the US, we’re 5% of the world population and 25% of the world’s prison population. One-third of all incarcerated women in the world are in the US,” he presented.
He laid out a number of issues he will support in his next term as Senator which included the federal decriminalization of marijuana, restoring felons’ voting rights, ending the school to prison pipeline, and working on prevention rather than punishment when it comes to criminal justice.
The final portion of Markey’s segment covered the election. Prior to this event, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe released a statement saying that Russia and other countries had acquired voter registration information on Americans. Senator Markey said if anybody cares about any of these issues, to vote early now, vote in person if possible, volunteer as a poll worker, or volunteer to make calls.
Markey concluded by referencing Pres. John F. Kennedy, saying, “To those much is given, much is expected. The people on this call have been given more than a half of a half of the 1% of all people who have ever lived, so you have a big obligation.”
The next portion of the event was with the Republican nominee, Kevin O’Connor. He introduced himself as “the common-sense candidate.” O’Connor emphasized his career as a trial lawyer for businesses that covered antitrust suits, intellectual property, securities litigation, and shareholder fights. He also referenced his experience in social justice issues which included introducing diversity councils in the law firms he has worked at and representing falsely convicted people.
“I am not a career politician. I am running because I am tired of what we are getting from career politicians and the politics of polarization. Senator Markey has become good at taking hard-line positions that are not even in the mainstream of the Democratic Party,” O’Connor remarked.
O’Connor went on to criticize the Green New Deal, arguing it was not viable because it would bankrupt young people’s futures and the country. He also argued that the US does not have the storage capacity to transition to completely renewable energy as of now.
Wieboldt turned the conversation to COVID-19 in light of O’Connor criticisms of hard-line lockdowns. He asked, “How can we balance public health and the importance of reopening the economy?”
“My preference is that we have deference to local control. The city of Boston is very different from Western Massachusetts. We need the people on the ground to be the ones making decisions for their community,” O’Connor explained.
Next, on the topic of bipartisanship, Wieboldt asked O’Connor about his opinions on the Supreme Court. “Court packing has been widely regarded as a terrible idea. There is bipartisan consensus that it is a bad idea. It creates a foreseeable and inevitable consequence that each time one party is in power, they will pack the court,” he argued.
However, he did reference his support for reforms to the Supreme Court, like instituting Massachusetts’ policy of an age limit of 70 years old.
On the topic of climate change, O’Connor expressed his belief in and concern for man-made climate change and outlined the need for innovative technology to address it. He asserted the belief that the US can achieve Carbon Neutrality by 2050 without the Green New Deal.
Wieboldt thanked Markey, O’Connor, and the Boston Intercollegiate Government for allowing this event to take place and offering a space for debate while in an online age.
The final message of this event can be expressed with Markey’s final statement, “Don’t agonize, organize! You guys need to be all gas and no breaks for these final 12 days!”