Daniel Biss, Joe Walsh talk freedom at heated College Republicans forum


Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) listens as former U.S. Rep Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) opens discussion on freedom at the bipartisan forum hosted by College Republicans on Tuesday evening. The event was co-sponsored by College Democrats.

Scott Brown, Reporter

Political passions ran high Tuesday night at College Republicans’ Bipartisan Forum on Freedom as a tea party favorite squared off with a staunch liberal.

The event, which took place in Harris Hall, brought in former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) and state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) for an open discussion about freedom.

The event began with opening comments from Walsh, who served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives before being defeated in 2012. Walsh said that the country is going through a revolution like we have not seen since the Civil War.

“There is a real split right now in this country between people who believe in big government doing a lot for a lot of people and people who believe (the) country was founded on small government,” he said.

Biss used his opening statement to highlight the complexity of freedom, noting his involvement in the passage of same-sex marriage in the Illinois Senate last week.

“It was one of my proudest legislative moments and it was really moving to play even a small role in it,” Biss said.

The pair then opened the floor to questions from the audience. Topics discussed ranged from Illinois pension issues to abortion, with each speaker offering his input on the questions. The audience, made up of about 30 students and local community members, maintained an open dialogue with Walsh and Biss, with attendees often interjecting their comments as the discussion progressed.

The forum, which was co-sponsored by College Democrats and Wildcats for Israel, was a part of Freedom Week, a series of events organized by the College Republicans for the week of Veterans Day. Dane Stier, College Republicans’ vice president of events, helped organize the talk.

“Regardless of what’s going on in Washington or Springfield, freedom is one thing we can all rally behind, and we wanted to show that both sides can get behind it,” the Weinberg senior said.

Stier said the first half of the talk was respectful, but toward the end it turned into a more heated debate as it became more focused on economics.

The conversation particularly began grew tense when the discussion turned to taxes. At one point, audience member John Fitzgerald, a Rogers Park resident, commented on the nation’s debt. Walsh’s rebuttal turned into an across-the-room shouting match, with both men yelling over each other.

“Shame on you, sir, for saying in front of a bunch of college-age students that the country has no debt,” Walsh said.

Biss criticized the way Walsh was speaking to the audience, saying it discouraged political engagement.

“They (the students) hear you berating a politically engaged person and they say ‘screw this,’” Biss said. “They don’t want to hear that,” he said.

Fitzgerald said he was expecting the event to be more moderated.

“I thought that someone from the organization was going to direct the questions. But we had this tea party audience and (Walsh) kept calling on them to educate the youth, and they would throw out Republican lies,” he said.

At the end of the forum, which ran nearly two hours, Walsh said he was glad the confrontation had occurred.

“We’ve had fun. We’ve laughed. We’ve gotten angry. This is what it’s all about,” he said. “Don’t shy away from the fight.”

Email: [email protected]