The Florida A&M University Student Government Association hosted a debate Tuesday night in Lee Hall Auditorium to introduce students to the candidates running for the 8th district of the Florida House of State Representatives.
“It is important to hold this debate on FAMU’s campus so students can be informed about the candidates,” said Markita Samuel, chairperson of the FAMU chapter of the Tallahassee Vote Coalition.
Samuel, 21, a history education student from Fort Lauderdale, said the candidate who is elected will replace Rep. Curtis Richardson.
“Whoever replaces Rep. Richardson should be close to FAMU and have FAMU at their best interest,” Samuel said. “It’s important that we meet the replacement early.”
The participating candidates were Hubert Brown, an attorney at Brown and Brown Law Firm; Sean Shaw, an attorney at Messer Caparello and Self Law Firm; Anthony Viegbesie, a FAMU and Tallahassee Community College economics and public administration professor; and Alan Williams, former senior advisor to the mayor of Tallahassee.
Patricia West, a FAMU history professor, was the moderator for the debate. Topics included tuition increase, the infant mortality rate, healthcare accessibility, black disparities in the prison system and the Florida economy. The candidates were allowed three to five minutes to answer a question and rebut any comments.
Viegbesie received much applause as he broke down numbers and statistics as if he was lecturing one of his classes. Viegbesie said more increases in tuition and less government assistance would put higher education out of reach for students.
“Increasing tuition will make (higher education) an elitist thing,” Viegbesie said. “Education got me from picking cucumbers in the fields to becoming a professor in higher education.”
Williams said the Legislature should examine where the funds are going. He added some excessive funding of other legislations should be put towards education.
The candidates agreed that in order to lower infant mortality in Gadsden and Leon counties, there must be more awareness and legitimate healthcare accessible in both counties.
Brown said people must be educated on the programs that make it easier to access healthcare and “we have to encourage more African Americans to become doctors and convince them to go into family practice.”
Shaw said the state must identify its priorities for funding. He explained to the audience that the state legislature has approved funds to help businesses ‘go green.’
“We have $200 million for businesses to go green, but no money for healthcare,” Shaw said to the audience. “I have no problem going green. I love the environment, but we must have priorities for healthcare.”
Viegbesie simply said, “Poor health leads to poor education.” He added when children are not healthy in the beginning stages they are already behind when they start pre-school.
At the end of the debate the audience was allowed to ask the candidates questions. One audience member asked what should be done about the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
Shaw said the state should abolish the FCAT. He said teachers and schools should not receive funding based on test scores.
Viegbesie said the test is biased and should not determine if a student graduates from high school. He said students are not prepared when they begin college, including students from ‘A’ schools because they are being taught how to take a test.
“Teachers no longer teach the fundamentals of what students should know by the time they get to college,” Viegbesie said.