CCC students, politicians debate election results

November 19, 2006|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

The two sat on the same side of the table, microphones poised in front of them.

That side of the table was about the only thing Democrat Corynne Courpas and Republican Larry Helminiak shared as they debated the Nov. 7 election before a group of students and residents at Carroll Community College.

Adjunct professor Tony Roman organized the debate for his political science survey class.

Courpas and Helminiak appeared as representatives of their parties to field questions on Maryland politics and Carroll County - a midterm election post-mortem of sorts.

Their analysis ranged from the national to local, covering such topics as whether Bush would be impeached and what challenges the county could face under state Democratic leadership.

"We had quite a referendum last week," said Courpas, who served as the county coordinator for Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley's gubernatorial campaign.

But Helminiak, who ran this year and lost in the primary for a House of Delegates seat in District 9B, had his own interpretation. The man who described himself as "primarily a conservative who is registered as a Republican" said the Democrats won by suddenly "embracing pro-life people and pro-gun people."

The Republican Party failed to strongly adhere to the "conservative Republican principles that got us in power in 1980" and other years, Helminiak said.

He pointed to 2004 races where the party supported incumbents he saw as less-than-right wing - such as Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter and Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee - instead of following its principles.

Still, Courpas attributed Democrats' success to substance, not a conservative void.

"The Democrats stayed on message this time, which is something we often don't do," Courpas said.

Candidates continuously emphasized core issues, including affordable education and health care for all, a plan to get the troops out of Iraq and homeland security, she said.

All of that would filter down to state and local levels, Courpas added.

With O'Malley at the helm, Maryland could start paying more attention to education and the environment - and less to gun control, abortion, gay rights and marriage - what she called "the diversions."

One of Roman's students, Amanda Lande, 19, pushed further into the future.

"This past election has changed a great deal in the political world," Lande said. "What do you want the outcome to be in the 2008 election?"

Courpas' response was almost automatic. "We'd like to win," she said. A handful of listeners clapped.

On this point, Helminiak agreed, albeit in reference to his party. "We're going to take back the House and the Senate, and hopefully the presidency," he said.

The two also agreed that a Bush impeachment would be undesirable - and unlikely, Helminiak added, considering "the biggest fear of Democrats" would be realized: "[Vice President] Cheney would be president."

Neil Ridgely, of Finksburg, directed the debate in a local vein.

"What do you think the greatest challenges will be for the county commissioners and the delegates?" Ridgely asked.

Helminiak cited the county's "outrageous" increases in income tax and home prices.

But Courpas countered that the cost of living in other counties, such as Howard, was higher.

"Our tax base in Carroll County, for the quality of life that we experience, is actually quite reasonable," she said.

Courpas also said she believed the Democrats' return to power would not mean bleak times for conservative Carroll.

"Our governors have not been small, petty people," Courpas said. "Carroll County will get what it needs."

Roman started the forum to make politics relevant to his students, he said.

"One of the things I hope they get out of it is a better understanding of how they can be involved in government," Roman said. Students said they appreciated the chance to question the Democrat and Republican, and their verbal sparring.

"They both seemed like normal Republicans and Democrats," said Zach Bowen, 15, referring to their tendency to disagree.

Lande said she thought the debate was worthwhile.

"I think people need to know this kind of stuff," she said. When it comes to politics, she added, "No one has any clue what's going on."

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

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