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UNC Institute of Politics to hold town hall for U.S. Senate candidates

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The UNC Institute of Politics is hosting a Senate Town Hall with candidates running for U.S. Senate in 2022 on Nov. 9, 2021 on campus. Senior Advisor Ella Ruth of the NC Institute of Politics helped organize the event. Photo courtesy of Ella Ruth.

The UNC Institute of Politics is holding a town hall for U.S. Senate candidates on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in Chapman Hall, room 201.

N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, former N.C. Sen. Erica Smith, pastor Tobias LaGrone, The Science Policy Action Network, Inc. founder and CEO Richard Watkins and Department of Defense public servant Jen Banwart will speak at the town hall.

Martin Brinkley, dean of the UNC School of Law, will moderate the event with student-submitted questions.

UNC senior Ella Icard, an IOP senior adviser, said she is excited that the town hall is going to be a student-led event. Icard said she expects the town hall to cover a variety of topics, including economics, health care and foreign policy.

The IOP reached out to all the candidates running for the Senate, and Banwart was the only Republican to express interest in coming to campus, Icard said.

“We are cognizant of the difference in Democrats and Republicans," Icard said. "We think that because it is a town hall format versus the debate format, it won’t feel as unbalanced as it would if it was Democrats versus Republicans.”

Icard said the IOP is, at its core, nonpartisan and dedicated to creating a space where ideas are shared. She said she wants students to be able to have open conversations through programming such as the town hall.

Banwart said she is hoping to help people understand that all political or belief systems are a spectrum.

“I am particularly encouraged by the fact that young people are so willing to submit their questions and their time to participate in this forum to hear people speak,” Banwart said. 

Banwart said that she is not trying to change people’s minds on what their core beliefs are. Instead, she said she's trying to make sure that students have a proper understanding of what her own core beliefs are. 

Jackson said he is hoping to talk about his 100 county campaign, an effort from Jackson and his team to hold 100 town halls in all 100 N.C. counties over 100 days. He also said he will have visited about 20 North Carolina colleges by Thanksgiving.

Jackson said that having all of the questions come from students is the most important part of the event.

He said he has a personal connection to UNC, having grown up in Chapel Hill and graduating from the UNC School of Law.

“My dad used to drop me off when I was in middle school and high school on the campus with a couple of friends, and we would just hang out for an entire Saturday on the campus," Jackson said. "So it's a part of my Senate campaign, but it's also a part of my childhood.”

As a part of Jackson’s college tour, he visited UNC in late October which he said helped him to get a sense of what is important to UNC students right now.

“It’s a really important part of the job to show up when there is a group of people who have questions for someone who aspires to make law in their name,” Jackson said. “As a U.S. Senate candidate, you should make yourself accessible to that group, it’s really a pretty simple principle.”

LaGrone said he hopes to communicate to town hall attendees that he is a servant leader who believes in telling the truth, and has decades of executive leadership experience.

He said he is excited to speak to college students as a candidate who is in tune with what it means to be a young person today.

“We should hear from you as students," LaGrone said. "The world is moving rapidly and many times we say that young people or students are the leaders of the future. I refute that, I say students are the leaders of today."

Students do not need to RSVP to attend the town hall. Questions for the town hall can be submitted via an online form.

Smith did not respond to The Daily Tar Heel's request for comment. Watkins was not available for comment by the time of publication. 

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