By Ashley Zsedenyi, staff writer
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – “I don’t care who you vote for – vote!” said Dr. Wendy Benningfield, associate professor of history at Campbellsville University, during the Kentucky Heartland Institute on Public Policy (KHIPP) sponsored forum at CU Thursday, Oct. 23.
“This is a historic election. An African-American is running for president, and for only the second time a female could be vice president,” Benningfield said. “Vote for who will impact you.”
John Chowning, vice president for church and external relations and executive assistant to the president at CU and founder of KHIPP, praised Benningfield and Max Wise, assistant professor of political science, for their “leadership in engaging student involvement” in the coming election.
“I am pleased in the degree of civic engagement on our campus,” Chowning said.
Guest speakers at the forum were Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson and Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway.
Conway and Benningfield spoke on behalf of the Democratic Party, while Grayson and Wise spoke on behalf of the Republican Party.
“This is a tough time for the Republican Party,” Wise said.
He said he thought John McCain was the best candidate his party could have selected at the time of the primary elections, and that McCain has “overcome problems I don’t know if any other candidate could have overcome,” but there is “just a need for a change at the time and (Barack) Obama has been steady over the course” of the campaign.
Wise discussed three key points he felt McCain could address that would be “classier than personal attacks” on Obama.
“Obama is the least friendly Democrat to business in a generation,” he said, adding that Obama mostly has non-profit experience and his main contact groups are trade unions and lawyers.
Wise also said McCain should “hammer away on the factor of single-party rule” in Washington, and that Americans like the system of checks and balances through divided parties.
Lastly, Wise said, “Obama is a party man…he voted 97 percent of the time with his party.”
Benningfield said she was “a Hillary (Clinton) fan” until recently, and that her initial problem was the actual name “President Obama.”
She said once she took the time to research Obama’s plans, she got “excited.”
“Every voter needs to take the time to read about the person, to understand all candidates and pick the issues that are important to you,” she said.
She said the country “needs a change, a fresh approach,” and feels “Obama represents change.”
“I like Obama because I like the change.”
“Obama’s tax cut for 95 percent of Americans excites me,” Benningfield said.
She also likes his plan for tax credits for college students who will have to complete community service as part of the deal, and she also likes his foreign policy plan, which is to re-establish contact with former U.S. allies and would open up trans-Atlantic communication.
Grayson said he is seeing “people of all ages involved” in this “exciting election.”
“There are serious problems facing the country and the world,” he said, but there is “hope for the future.”
He admitted he “predicted it would be Hillary Clinton” who would win the election, and he mentioned his young daughter became excited at the prospect of a female president.
His other daughter, he said, was an Obama fan until she learned he and his wife Michelle do not give gifts to their daughters for their birthdays or Christmas as a way to teach their children the value of money and to live in moderation.
The fact was his children were “involved.” He said he encouraged them because he “wanted them to believe they could do whatever they wanted to do.”
While Grayson said he is “optimistic” for McCain to win in Kentucky, he is “not optimistic at the national level.”
He said he has been frustrated by some of McCain’s actions during the campaign, and feels McCain hasn’t spent enough time discussing his economic plan and his personal values in detail.
The Republicans “probably will lose this election, and probably will lose some Senate seats,” Grayson said, but he is “very proud to be a Republican” and “win or lose, I am a Republican because of the ideas the party is built on.”
Conway said, “Our country is seriously off on the wrong track…and I think the American people know that.”
Addressing Wise’s comment about single-party rule, Conway said, “the Republican party has ruled the United States most of the last decade.”
“Think back to Sept. 12, (2001),” he said. “Surpluses as far as the eyes can see, Colin Powell fielding calls from around the world giving their support to the U.S.”
“How on Earth in seven years did we squander so much?” Conway said. “We have $10 trillion in debt to pass on to our kids.”
“It is time for fundamental change,” he said.
“Our government is less creditworthy” because Americans were told it was our “patriotic duty to go spend,” and now face an “economic crisis.”
“We have now run out of digits on the debt clock,” Conway said.
He asked the audience, “Which of these two candidates offers fundamental change and the inspiration to get us out of the mess we’re in?”
He said (former president Bill) Clinton didn’t have business experience either, but “he knew economics,” and the U.S. experienced “eight years of growth” under his leadership.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell “wrote the book” on how and why we go to war, Conway said, and he “said a lot in his endorsement of Obama.”
“Would you rather be inspired, or would you rather have fear instilled in you?” Conway asked.
“There are 49,000 new registered voters in Kentucky,” and he said they registered “because they are going to vote.”
The panel also fielded audience questions on topics including the right to life, the economy, the war in Iraq, the future of small business, the role of the media in educating voters and the early voting system in Kentucky.
Benningfield said “history does repeat itself,” in referring to the economic crisis and the eventual depression of the 1920s, and said we must “restore confidence in America around the world, as well as in Americans.” She said the “bailout plan didn’t fix anything, but it helped.”
Grayson said the next president “needs to calm and unify the country.”
The panel also discussed the concern of biased media in this election.
Grayson said he has been “frustrated” by the coverage of all campaigns, both state and national.
He said, “(Joe) Biden says something dumb every day, but (Sarah) Palin gets pounded for one bad interview.”
He also mentioned he sees “lots of questions that ought to be asked” that are being overlooked, and urged the audience to seek out the truth. “We live in a day and age of the Internet. The information is out there if you look for it.”
Conway echoed Grayson’s concerns of media coverage, and said “There are so many sources (of information) now, perhaps the Internet is the way out.”
As for the Iraqi war, Conway said we need a “thoughtful president” to end the “over 100-year-old” dilemma.
“We have to send a signal to the rest of the world” that we need their assistance. “We have to stop sending so much money to the Middle East,” he said.
Conway said another major issue of the campaign should be energy consumption. “We have to come up with new ways to use energy more efficiently.”
“Overall, I like where the priorities are in Obama’s plan over McCain’s,” he said.
Grayson said, “Whoever is elected the next president, he is my president and I want him to do well.”
Campbellsville University is a private, comprehensive institution located in South Central Kentucky. Founded in 1906, Campbellsville University is affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention and has an enrollment of 2,601 students who represent 93 Kentucky counties, 27 states and 31 foreign nations. Listed in U.S.News & World Report’s 2009 “America’s Best Colleges,” CU is ranked 22nd in “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the South for the second consecutive year. CU has been ranked 16 consecutive years with U.S.News & World Report. The university has also been named to America’s Best Christian Colleges®. Campbellsville University is located 82 miles southwest of Lexington, Ky., and 80 miles southeast of Louisville, Ky. Dr. Michael V. Carter is in his tenth year as president.