Audience participation enlivens 24th District debate

Chris Kelly and Ed Robb meet to discuss issues fielded by the audience.
Republican Ed Robb debates Democrat Chris Kelly during a forum between the two candidates for Missouri's 24th state House district on Wednesday in Engineering Building West. The candidates focused on higher education-related topics.

State House candidates Chris Kelly and Ed Robb met for one last debate on Wednesday, just less than a week from Election Day.

MU's chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the Associated Students of the University of Missouri and the Graduate Professional Council hosted the debate at Engineering Building West.

The first portion of the debate consisted of questions from Rainer Glaser of AAUP, ASUM board chairman Craig Stevenson and John Allen of GPC.

Stevenson asked the candidates about the possibility of passing a student curator bill in the future if elected.

The incumbent Robb, R-Columbia, who has previously voted against having a voting student curator, said there is a good chance the bill would pass in the future.

"I've thought a lot about it and I've changed my mind," Robb said, adding that it's hard to trust a student with the responsibility of a curator.

"Curators are like the board members of a $2 billion corporation," Robb said.  "I hope most of the students, even at the graduate level, will have the different insight it takes to make good board decisions."

When his turn to speak came, Kelly pointed out a friend of his in the audience, Ken Jacob, a former state senator from Columbia. Jacob sponsored the first student curator bill, which passed and put a non-voting student member on the board, and Kelly co-sponsored it during his previous time in the House of Representatives.

"I was proud to co-sponsor the student curator bill, and I would be proud to sponsor it again," Kelly said. "A student curator would have a tremendous amount of knowledge and wisdom that comes from the perspective of someone who has to pay loans and make their degree worth something."

About 25 states, Kelly said, have done it without any massive difficulties. He specifically referenced the use of a student curator at Robb's alma mater, Michigan State University.

"Knowledge and insight, yes," Robb said in reply to Kelly. "Wisdom, no. Wisdom comes with age."

Following the panel's planned questions, Kelly and Robb answered questions from audience members.

Junior Colin Williams asked what the two candidates would do to help renovate MU's campus.

The issue Williams raised was one that spanned a couple of questions asked by different audience members.

"I've seen the long-term list of goals from Gary Forsee, and I think engineering is No. 1," Robb said. "I know they want a performing arts center. That would be nice, but it's a much harder sell."

Kelly said restoration of existing buildings is something the curators need to confront. He also said the problem's solution is contingent on successfully passing tax increases.

"When you elect legislators who tear the throat out of people who seek the most modest education tax increases, nothing will get accomplished," Kelly said.

The debate concluded after 90 minutes, and both candidates agreed it was their most substantial one to date.

"This has been much more stimulating than other forums," Kelly said in his concluding speech.

Robb said audience participation portion of the debate made it the first of its kind during this race, making it the most meaningful one for him.

"This has been a pleasurable evening," Robb said in his concluding speech. "You've got an interesting choice between the two of us. We have a lot of similarities, in some ways we've got a lot of differences."

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