By: CHRISTINA CLARK
The room was at capacity at last week’s “Meet the Candidates” forum, with many packing into standing-room-only positions at the end of the rows of seats in the auditorium in Weikemp Hall.
A livestream of the event was projected in a room nearby to a full audience there as well. The event was livestreamed online to those unable to attend.
The event, put on by the IU South Bend American Democracy Project, was the first in a series of forums planned for the upcoming midterm elections.
Candidates for St. Joseph County, Ind., positions in attendance included incumbents, those running for the Democratic Party nomination to represent the 2nd Congressional District in the House of Representatives, sheriff, assessor, Portage Township trustee, Portage Advisory Board member, probate judge, County Council-District H representative, Board of Commissioners-District 1 commisioner, and Indiana State Senate-District 11 senator.
Those in attendance wishing to represent the 2nd Congressional District were allotted ten minutes to speak. Sheriff and assessor cadidates were allotted five minutes. Those running for other offices were given 60 to 90 seconds to introduce themselves and present their cases.
“I was thrilled by the turnout,” said Elizabeth Bennion, political science professor and founding director of IU South Bend’s American Democracy Project.
According to Bennion, student member of the IU South Bend American Democracy Project Kacey Huerta counted 266 people in attendance.
“This was a record turnout for a ‘Meet the Candidates’ event,” said Bennion. “This is especially impressive during a primary election. Voters in our community are getting engaged in the political process with more energy and passion than I have witnessed in over 18 years on campus.”
Drawing much of the attention that evening were candidates running to represent the 2nd Congressional District, a seat that Congresswoman Jackie Walorski currently holds. Walorski was not able to attend due to Congress being in session during the event.
Three Democrats are currently vying for their party’s nomination in the election: Pat Hackett, Mel Hall and Yatish Joshi. Each gave impassioned speeches as to why they believe they can provide a different sort of representation for those dissatisfied with Walorski’s.
2nd Congressional District candidates for the Democratic nomination had strong words.
Pat Hackett quoted Eleanor Roosevelt, saying “This is no ordinary time. No person who is a candidate can carry this situation alone. This is carried only by a united people that love their country,” she said. “I’m running for congress because Eleanor’s words are as true now as ever before.”
Another candidate for the position that Jackie Walorski currently holds spoke of his upbringing. “My dad taught us the old, country expression, ‘What you’re doing speaks so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying,’” said Mel Hall. “That’s how I’ve tried to live my life.”
He spoke about how he sees President Trump saying one thing and doing another, in relation to the working class. Again referencing his father, he said, “[President Trump] has a history of stiffing workers, workers like my carpenter father, who when he did not get paid for the work he did, we felt it at the table.”
At the end of Democratic Party candidate Yatish Joshi’s speech he referred to himself as “Brown Bernie,” to the amused crowd, alluding to the former presidential candidate and current senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. After speaking about his and his wife’s success as business owners, job creators and parents, he ended with a call to action to “repeal and replace Jackie Walorski.”
Some key incumbents were not able to attend the event, as they were actively in their elected roles elsewhere working in their capacity. The IU South Bend American Democracy project hopes that they will attend the upcoming debates.
“We received numerous compliments from both candidates and voters alike who made it clear that they appreciate the work we are doing and the opportunities we provide to local voters,” said Bennion. “Several campaign managers have made it clear that they have accepted our invitations specifically because their team trust us to host high-quality, unbiased educational events.”
The next event for the IU South Bend American Democracy Project will take place again in 1001 Wiekamp Hall on March 27, where the congressional candidates will participate in debates for an hour and a half, and again on April 10 at the IU South Bend Elkhart Center.