Program Board pulls out of sponsoring annual bipartisan debate

Media Credit: Sarah Urtz | Photographer

Cole Perry, the chairman of the College Republicans, said planning the event without the help of Program Board may be more difficult because College Democrats and Republicans transition their leadership in April – when the event is typically held.

Updated: Feb. 28, 2019 at 3:20 p.m.

For at least a decade, Program Board sponsored an “Only at GW” debate co-hosted by the GW College Republicans and College Democrats – but the partnership will come to a close this year.

Members of Program Board said they will no longer team up with the top two political student groups for an April debate, which features left- and right-wing political commentators who discuss opposing sides of current political issues. Program Board leaders said the group wants to stray from politics as an apolitical student organization, but leaders of the College Republicans and Democrats said lacking the sponsor may hurt efforts to host and advertise one of the groups’ largest annual events.

Reed Elman Waxham, the chair of Program Board, said that while GW is “one of the most politically active schools” in the United States, members of Program Board want to give students a space to enjoy themselves without discussing politics. He said Program Board has not historically provided monetary support for the debate but helped market the event.

“Sometimes students just need to be students, and events that allow students to be students first are our priority,” he said in an email.

Elman Waxham said the organization will instead turn its focus to its first-ever two-part Spring Fling this semester.

Cole Perry, the chairman of the College Republicans, said Program Board has typically assisted the organizations with applying for Student Association funding, advertising the debate and reserving the Jack Morton Auditorium. He said nearly all students are involved in politics, and the event is like a “capstone” for both organizations.

“Why would I want to be in a partisan club if all we did was have bipartisan events?” he said. “We’re the face of Republicans on campus, they’re the face of the Democrats on campus. It’s like the grand finale of the year.”

He said planning the event without the help of Program Board may be more difficult because College Democrats and Republicans transition their leadership in April – when the event is typically held.

Perry said the organizations did not host the debate last year because they did not give the SA finance committee enough time to process a budget request.

Former White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Tom Ridge, the first secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, debated during the event in 2017. Former Democratic congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts and George W. Bush’s former press secretary Dana Perino attended the debate in 2015.

Perry added that members of College Republicans are currently in talks with officials in the School of Media and Public Affairs to plan the debate because they could help to bring in alumni and find a moderator.

“Maybe it’s a good thing, but it is disappointing that it can’t be a totally student-led program,” Perry said. “So it was a little strange to hear that Program Board has no intention of working again on it.”

College Democrats President Bridget Anzano said members of College Democrats heard that Program Board would not sponsor the debate through members of College Republicans who originally reached out to the student organization at the beginning of the semester.

“We are still being allocated money from the SA to hold the event, and we are very grateful for that,” she said in an email. “We are currently in the process of working with CRs to hammer out the specific details of it.”

Editor’s note: This post was updated to more accurately reflect a quote from Cole Perry.

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