Oct 27, 2009

Behind Liberty’s voting initiative: Chancellor Falwell sets the record straight

by Amanda Baker

The Liberty student voting initiative, spearheaded by Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr., has inspired mixed feelings on campus and in the Lynchburg community. Falwell cleared up some misconceptions during an interview with the Liberty Champion, including the university’s political position and his response to claims made by political candidates.

On why student voting is important to the Liberty community
“Well, the obvious reason is being a good citizen. The Virginia election this year is being watched closely by politicians all over the country because it is, in many ways, a referendum in a swing state on the proposed massive expansion of government in Washington. The reason we are encouraging students to vote locally is because, in some cities in Virginia (including Lynchburg), students have not been allowed to vote where they attend school. The ACLU and the Obama campaign were responsible for helping to change that law last year. We would be remiss if we did not ask students to exercise the new rights that have been given to them. College students all over the state and nation have been exercising those same rights for years.

“Students are citizens. The city counts even dorm students in its population numbers in order to obtain assistance from the government. Why shouldn’t they vote? It’s common sense to me, and it’s funny to hear those on the other side screaming about it — when they were all in favor of students voting at other colleges, I guess because the views of those students were more in line with their own views.”

On personal responsibility
“When students don’t vote, the university becomes a target for city government. If there are no consequences on election day, why not increase taxes that impact college students? Why not require LU to build public roads and spend tuition dollars in ways that benefit the city instead of the students? By voting locally, the students help this university focus its resources on enhancing the educational experience for students instead of unfunded mandates from the city. That ought to be a powerful incentive for students because the end result is lower tuition.

“The big election is in the spring. That’s the one where Liberty students can really make their voices heard in a big way. The terms of three of the seven seats of city council will expire.”

On the permanent residency fallacy
“Lots of people move to a city and work for three or four years on their way up the corporate ladder. For example, many of the reporters at the News & Advance and many of the news people at the local TV stations are not planning to stay here more than a few years. They often move on. Does that mean they can’t vote while they’re here? Students are here to get an education. It’s no different than someone moving here to work for a few years. You are impacted financially by the decisions the city makes. Forty percent of Liberty students live off campus in the city and most are paying rent. Their landlords are paying real estate taxes with that rent. So the students are really paying the real estate taxes. They pay over 11 percent meals taxes, they pay lodging and sales taxes. Why should they be taxed without representation? The rest of the country figured that out a long time ago.

“Interestingly, prior to 2008, the ACLU reported that most of the college towns in Virginia were allowing (students to vote), but not Lynchburg. Registering locally has no impact on your parents even if they claim you as a dependent on their taxes. Unless you are from Alaska, there’s no downside to it, as long as (students) don’t vote in two places. That is illegal, of course, but the law says that you decide what is the community of your residence and where you vote.”

On debunking Shannon Valentine’s claim that Liberty supports illegal immigrants attending college
”I vaguely remember her calling me three or four years ago, but I hadn’t even thought about the issue that she mentioned until I read her comments recently. Our policy has always been to require all international students to have the proper student visas as a requirement for admission to Liberty. That is the law and I support it.”

On the university’s political position
“We just want students to vote locally. The law was changed to give university students representation in the cities where they attend school because they are more impacted by the policies of those localities than they are their parents’ localities. We are not going to tell students which candidates they should or should not support. As a university, that’s not our job. We simply think that it is important that they show up at the polls locally and that they get educated on what local issues impact their tuition and the taxes that they pay while they are here.”

Contact Amanda Baker at ambaker2@liberty.edu.

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