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Joe Sestak brings senate campaign to campus

Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak conducted a town hall-style meeting at Eastern with students, faculty and local residents on Feb. 1.

Sestak represents the 7th district and hopes to beat out five-term Senator Arlen Spector to become the Democratic Party’s candidate in the 2010 senatorial elections.

The event took place on the second floor of Warner Library. The meeting began with a brief introduction from Chancellor Hall, in which he expressed hopes to host similar meetings with Spector and Republican candidate Patrick Toomey.

Sestak’s opening remarks spelled out his priorities: creating job opportunities, passing the House health care bill and bringing “accountable leadership” to Washington. 

Sestak spoke resolutely on the importance of passing the controversial health care bill, at one point declaring, “I would lose my job to get this bill passed.”

Health care reform was, not surprisingly, the overarching issue during the question-and-answer session as well.

Early on, Sestak defended his support of mandatory health care for every individual, reasoning that when the uninsured get sick, taxpayers foot the bill.

When questioned about what he would do to help college students pay for mandatory health insurance, Sestak responded that the House bill would allow “youths” to stay on their parents’ health insurance until the age of 27.

Another audience member asked whether, given the apparent deadlock in the Senate, Sestak would make compromises for the sake of general progress. 

“I’d prefer not to have to vote on the Senate version,” Sestak said initially.

Instead, he suggested Congress focus on passing laws to enact the obvious reforms that “even Republicans agree on.”

Among these reforms, Sestak spoke of taking measures to prevent people with pre-existing conditions from being denied health care, ensuring gender equality in the price of insurance and helping small businesses keep health care costs down. 

“Let’s package those quickly and get them through,” Sestak said emphatically.

Sestak said Democrats are wrong to blame the lack of progress on Republicans. 

“We should not point to the other side and say, ‘We were obstructed,” he said. Rather, they should do a better job explaining the bill to constituents, perhaps even making sure they understand it themselves.”

Although students made up the majority of the audience, they were not well represented in the question-and-answer session. 

Sestak, who apparently prepared for a discussion aimed mostly at winning over young voters, found himself nearly begging for questions from students.

When asked about this low level of student participation, Sestak said in reply that what an individual can accomplish to further the issue of justice “pales in comparison to what good government programs can do. Until the right legislation comes around we won’t achieve social justice.”

Sestak is currently trailing Senator Specter in fundraising, party support, voter polls and, perhaps most importantly, name recognition.

While Specter has become something of an institution in Pennsylvania politics since his first election to public office in 1965, this is his first senatorial race since switching his party affiliation last April from Republican to Democrat.  Primary voting will take place on May 18.

J.R. Ambrose contributed to this report.

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