The latest Common Ground event on April 2 provided a wide-ranging discussion of divisive topics that are on the minds of voters as the Presidential election approaches. Rep. Matt Cartwright ’83 and former Oklahoma Rep. Steve Russell discussed some of America’s most pressing policy issues. Mimi Geerges, host of CSPAN’S Washington Journal, moderated the conversation.

Cartwright is a staunch supporter of bipartisanship and has succeeded in authoring and passing 16 substantive bills into law, signed and enacted by the last three presidents.  I had the pleasure of sitting next to him at the dinner before the event. Cartwright reminisced about his time on Hamilton’s men’s rugby team and the history classes he took. I also spoke with Russell prior to the event and enjoyed learning about his military background, deep interests in history, and his views on the relationship between morality and government. He is the president & CEO of JAARS, an organization committed to translating the Bible to groups living within the green band of rainforest who do not have a full Bible written in their first language

Moderator Mimi Geerges poses a question to Common Ground panelists.
Moderator Mimi Geerges poses a question to Common Ground panelists. Photo: Nancy L. Ford

Geerges initiated the discussion by asking the speakers their views regarding gun control. Russell strongly opposed bans on assault rifles. He argued that the right to self-defense is an unalienable right and that “we have to keep the Bill of Rights in mind before we tinker with any of them.” Cartwright disagreed. He voiced his support for assault rifle bans, saying, “We have had mass shootings after mass shootings after mass shootings. There’s no denying it. We need to do something.” Russell continued to push back, returning to his firm allegiance to the Bill of Rights. Cartwright responded: “We need to make changes. End of story.”

Geerges then seamlessly pivoted the discussion to climate change, asking the speakers to articulate their views on America’s progress in its transition toward more renewable energy sources. Cartwright passionately asserted that America must lead the fight against climate change. Russell expressed concerns about the economic costs that might come from a transition to renewable energy. While the two had slightly different priorities regarding America’s approach to climate change, they seemed to agree that innovation will be key for charting the path toward a cleaner environment.

Geerges asked the speakers to share their views on the role that religion plays in public life. Russell believes that government and morality are deeply intertwined. He explained that all legislation reflects some view of morality. While Cartwright said that politicians are entitled to express their religious beliefs, he also urged the importance of being inclusive to all religions. 

The conversation then shifted to reproductive rights. Cartwright expressed anger at the decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, saying he was deeply upset by the government’s efforts to strip women of their reproductive rights. “I did not run for Congress to take women’s rights away from them,” he said. Russell, on the other hand, firmly opposed abortion. He explained that he feels compelled to stand up for the women who have not been born yet.  Russell said his view on abortion is deeply rooted in his Christian faith and belief in God as the source behind human life.

Next Event: Wednesday, April 10

State of the Race: Biden v. Trump and the Road to the White House

Common Ground Events

When Geerges opened up the floor for students’ questions, we saw student civic engagement in full force. Ten to 15 SJP protestors lined the Chapel balcony, holding homemade signs and displaying Palestinian flags. Earlier, protestors had unfurled a flag over the balcony, but as Geerges transitioned into the open Q&A period, they began to voice their frustration.

One student asked whether there was a line Israel could cross that would cause Rep. Cartwright to withdraw his endorsement of U.S’s military support to Israel. Cartwright responded that he has written to the Biden administration urging them to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Russell asserted his view that Israel has a right to defend itself. Soon the Q&A turned into a heated back and forth between protestors and the speakers. As Geerges moved toward her final question, the protestors shouted “shame” and “boo” at the stage.

Common Ground is a forum that aims to bring people of opposing viewpoints together to discuss their differences and find points of agreement that might not always be obvious. This demonstration called attention to an issue that demands conversation. As a campus community, we must come together to engage in discourse, listen to one another, and be willing to confront views that might be different from our own. Common Ground is committed to cultivating political discussions in which we can recognize our common interests, citizenship, and humanity. I have faith that discourse on issues such as this one will help to illuminate the path ahead on issues where the solutions are not always clear.

The College thanks Mary Helen and Robert Morris ’76, P’16,’17; Eve Niquette and Charles Pohl, P’20,’25; and Lori and David Hess ’77 for their generous support of Common Ground.

Common Ground

Common Ground is Hamilton’s multi-format program that helps prepare students for active citizenship. Designed to explore cross-boundary political thought and complex social issues, Common Ground brings respected thought leaders to Hamilton to participate in small classroom dialogues and large event discussions.

Hamilton’s Common Ground program hosted WCNY (PBS) for the first installment of its “Ivory Tower on the Road” series.

Common Ground Hosts WCNY “Ivory Tower on the Road”

Hamilton College’s Common Ground program hosted WCNY (PBS) for the first installment of its “Ivory Tower on the Road” series at local colleges and universities for an hour and a half of debate, conversation, and disagreement.

Admiral Michelle Howard, Honorable Lawrence Guzman Romo, Jerry Buchanan, Ty Seidule and Connor Williams participate in a Common Ground

Civil Discourse in the Heart of Change, Continuity, and the Confederacy

Five members of the Congressional Naming Commission visited Hamilton on Feb. 7 to discuss their task of removing, modifying, or replacing all Department of Defense assets that commemorate the Confederacy.

Former US Congressman Bob Inglis, center, speaks to the crowd at the JAn. 31 Common Ground event.

Common Ground: Navigating the Climate Crisis

The co-author of the Green New Deal Rhiana Gunn-Wright, and the Republican champion for climate change Bob Inglis discussed climate change under the aegis of Common Ground in the Chapel on Jan. 31.

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