Former Senator and Governor discuss Trump, climate change and free speech in “Great Debate”

On Wednesday evening, the former Democratic governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, and Republican Senator of New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte, participated in the annual “Great Debate” hosted by the Penn State College Democrats and Republicans. Michael Berkman and Chris Beem, of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, moderated the event.

The topics discussed include the current political climate, climate change, President Trump and free speech in the “Great Debate”. Members of the audience could submit questions for the speakers via Twitter, with speakers given a few minutes to respond to those chosen. To see  live coverage of the event, follow the hashtag #GreatDebate17 and check out The Underground’s live tweeting.


The first question of the evening asked the speakers how college education can be made more affordable.

O’Malley stated that universities needed to start taking advantage of cost saving opportunities by embracing new technology and online classes.  Ayotte said colleges themselves needed to be transparent on their spending. “We need some skin in the game from colleges in how they’re pricing things, what they’re spending on”. Colleges, Ayotte said needed to be able to illustrate why prices are rising and what they are doing to make their education services more affordable.

In response to a question on climate change Ayotte said that “if you call yourself a conservative you should be conserving everything”. A pragmatic approach to climate change policy, she continued, was the best way to address climate change politically. She cited her success with energy conservation policy within the Senate as an example of where pragmatic policy found a middle ground.


In contrast O’Malley saw climate change as the biggest business opportunity to come to America in 100 years.  Pointing to a recent surge in wind power and wind technology in Iowa (where approximately 30% of the state’s electricity is sourced from wind) O’Malley said that “there were more jobs in solar than in all of coal [or] natural gas”.

The most heated exchanges of the evening came after both candidates were asked to share their opinions on President Trump’s first 100 days in office. Ayotte, careful to toe the line, said that that the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch had been an excellent accomplishment for the president.  In addition, she stated that Trump is providing regulatory relief to the American people and will continue to do so well after the conclusion of his first 100 days in office.

Visibly passionate about this question O’Malley responded saying that there had never been a time in history “where a president devoted so much time to criminalizing and vilifying immigrants.” President Trump, O’Malley said, was turning the USA into the world’s largest immigrant internment camp through his recent executive orders. Furthermore Trump, said O’Malley is stoking white supremacy within the NSA. O’Malley also touched on Trump’s controversial tweets stating that “tweets at 2 a.m. were not acceptable for running a free country.”

In one of the final questions of the evening, the speakers were asked their opinions on free speech on college campus. A controversial topic given that UC Berkley chose to cancel conservative commentator Ann Coulters speech on Wednesday evening over concerns of potential protest and violence from students. Ayotte received applause from the audience for her thoughts, stating college campuses needed to be the place where you can give a “talk about anything you believe” and from any perspective.  Similarly O’Malley stated the importance of colleges remaining a place of free speech. He cited college campus as one the few places left in society where people from different perspectives can talk openly to one another.

Photo Credit: Adriana Lacy



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Caitriona Pearson

Caitriona Pearson is a junior economics and political science major from Napier, New Zealand. She enjoys writing about current affairs and politics, particularly from an international perspective. You can find her on twitter @caitrionapear or you can email her at

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