Candidates Field Student Questions

Executive director for the Institute of Principled Leadership Brad McMillan, center, speaks with Bradley students before the start of the 17th Congressional District debate in Peoria.

By Frank Radosevich II
October 26, 2012

Bradley students did more than watch the final debate between incumbent U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling and Democratic challenger Cheri Bustos. Before the nationally televised event, students participated directly by submitting questions online to the two candidates.

Students sent in questions via a website set up by Bradley’s Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service, which helped organize the debate with the Illinois League of Women Voters and Peoria’s local PBS affiliate WTVP.

“Bradley students really experienced democracy in action,” said Brad McMillan, executive director of the Institute, which also helped organize a televised Democratic primary debate in March.

On the night of the debate, roughly 20 students sat with the studio audience and watched the candidates face off at WTVP. The debate was aired on WTVP, C-SPAN2, Peoria’s local NPR affiliate WCBU and on public broadcasting outlets in Rockford and the Quad Cities.

Camille Ivy-O’Donnell, a senior studying public relations and political science, gathered the suggested questions and served as one of the three debate moderators. The Fort Worth, Texas, native said she received queries that addressed everything from local and regional to national issues and was able to pose three of the students’ questions during the hourlong debate.

“We got a lot of really good questions,” she said. “The one that I really enjoyed, and that I did get to ask the candidates, was what they believed was Congress’ role in dealing with gas prices.”

The election is one of great importance for Bradley, since the newly drawn 17th Congressional District encompasses the University and its surrounding community. Before the redistricting, Bradley was part of the 18th Congressional District, represented by Republican Aaron Schock ’02.

“This race is going be extremely close,” McMillan said. “Millions of dollars have been spent by the candidates and parties, and whoever wins is going to represent Bradley University’s campus in Congress for the next two years.”

Overall, the debate topics covered a range of issues from free trade to economic growth to constituent services. Ivy-O’Donnell said she was nervous before taking the stage as a moderator but added that the experience was a memorable and eye-opening one.

She said watching the debate live brought the field of politics into a sharper focus for her and her fellow students.

“It makes it more real for us,” she said. “I think a lot of students feel removed from the process, but if they can be in the room watching the candidates thinking on their feet, as opposed to watching them on TV, it’s more real.”