The growing partisan divide in American politics was on the mind of McDaniel College students who attended a lecture with U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, on Wednesday afternoon.
The deep partisan divide in congressional politics was on the minds of McDaniel College students who attended a lecture with U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, on Wednesday afternoon at the school's campus in Westminster.
Cardin, who began his political career in 1967 when he took a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates, spoke for an hour about the lessons he has learned as an elected official, saying that the partisan divide in the House of Representatives began when Republican Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House.
"I really do not think the framers of the Constitution ever planned for the speaker of the house to be a partisan position," Cardin said.
Two students in attendance voiced their concerns about political gridlock in Washington.
Kyle Cholakian, 20, a political science and philosophy major, asked Cardin whether he believes U.S. Supreme Court decisions such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. have contributed to political polarization. The 2014 ruling recognized a for-profit corporation's religious belief, allowing the company to deny employees medical coverage for birth contraceptives.
"We need more people that are more willing to come up with solutions on both sides of the aisle," said Cholakian, who said he was impressed by Cardin's response that he wants to bridge that divide.
Senior Breyonna West, 21, a communications major with a minor in political science, who recently handed in a paper on the 2013 government shutdown, said, "It's interesting to see a person working in government who sees an opportunity for government to be beneficial."
West said it was refreshing to hear that Cardin wants to reach across the aisle as the two political parties grow more divided in their philosophies.
For example, Cardin mentioned that he is working with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, to restore voting rights to those disenfranchised by voter ID laws.
Dr. Herbert Smith, professor of political science and director of government relations at the college, said after the lecture that political polarization is growing.
"There has been a drastic increase in the division between political parties and elected officials," Smith said. "It has affected the ability to compromise. It's more pronounced in the [House of Representatives] than the Senate."
Smith said because the Senate is a smaller body, there is more opportunity for politicians to compromise.
"Sen. Ted Cruz (Republican-Texas) notwithstanding, there is a semblance for comprise in the Senate," said Smith, a registered Democrat who describes himself as a fiscal conservative and liberal on social issues.
Cholakian said students can learn from Cardin, who has a unique perspective because of his lifetime in politics.
"We're seeing a lot of people lately coming out of the woodwork who have never worked in politics; they're in business or entertainment," Cholakian said. "But Sen. Cardin is someone who has seen American progression not just in Maryland but nationally — I think we can learn a lot from people like him."
The talk was part of a speaker series called "What I've Learned: A Life in Public Service," which brings elected officials to the school to speak with students, faculty and staff about their lives in politics. Others who have spoken include Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R; former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, D; McDaniel alumnus District 12 state Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, D; and U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D.
Smith, who organized the event, said the series began in 1973 with former U.S. Sen. Charles "Mac" Matthias Jr. "It really puts a face on the lecturing of the U.S. Senate and public officials," Smith said. "They have the chance to interact with a sitting U.S. senator — that's something that the vast majority of them have never had."
The next speaker has not yet been determined, said Cheryl Knauer, a McDaniel spokeswoman.
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