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Matt Shea takes surprise positions at debate team fundraiser

During a lively debate with University High School students, Sen. Mike Padden speaks in the negation about the need for free college in the United States. The fundraiser for the U-Hi debate team was held Monday night at Valley Partners. In back, seated left to right, state Rep. Matt Shea, state Rep. Bob McCaslin and U-Hi student debaters: Peyton Ugolini, 17, Jacob Dawson, 18, and Chandler Lymbery, 19. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
During a lively debate with University High School students, Sen. Mike Padden speaks in the negation about the need for free college in the United States. The fundraiser for the U-Hi debate team was held Monday night at Valley Partners. In back, seated left to right, state Rep. Matt Shea, state Rep. Bob McCaslin and U-Hi student debaters: Peyton Ugolini, 17, Jacob Dawson, 18, and Chandler Lymbery, 19. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

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Republican State Rep. Matt Shea made a shocking, impassioned call for free college tuition Monday evening.

“It’s a human right,” Shea said with a completely straight face. “It’s our promise to the next generation.”

That’s when the audience at University High School’s debate team fundraiser dissolved in laughter and applause Monday evening at Spokane Valley Partners.

The conservative lawmaker took the position only because that’s the side of the issue that event organizers had chosen for him. He does not really support free college tuition.

But he embraced the role, referring to Democratic presidential candidate and self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders as a “good friend.”

The Titans debate team accomplished what few civic groups in Spokane Valley have when it managed to get all the Valley’s legislators together on one stage: Shea, Rep. Bob McCaslin and Sen. Mike Padden all agreed to participate in a debate that’s a fundraiser for the team’s upcoming trip to a national debate competition in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Debate team captain Peyton Ugolini came up with the idea and as a volunteer on Matt Shea’s re-election campaign, he had easy access.

“Matt Shea was all over it right away,” Ugolini said. “I reached out to McCaslin via email and suddenly they were all on board.”

Just like at a real debate tournament, participants came prepared for certain questions but didn’t know which side they would be asked to argue for. Which is how conservative Shea ended up arguing for free college for all.

U-High student Jacob Dawson followed up in support of Shea.

“The government needs to tax people so me and my friends can go to college,” Dawson said. Then he deadpanned: “I promise we will be real serious.” He later promised a free open heart surgery, on demand, to anyone who’d help pay for his doctorate.

The next question was whether the war on drugs should continue, and McCaslin was asked to argue against it.

“Dude, we ought to stop the war on drugs,” McCaslin said in his best stoner voice. “As long as it’s herbal and natural it’s in human nature that we grow it and consume it.”

The students held their own against the elected officials

During the debate about whether the public school system should be reformed, Ugolini said there was too much agreement on stage and he would shake things up:

“We should abandon public education all together,” Ugolini said, to great cheers from the crowd.

The team’s coach David Smith said the debate was the students’ idea.

“I’ve done nothing to put this on,” Smith said. “They did it all themselves. I’m just here to watch.”

The event raised $1,200.

When the debate was over, students and legislators mingled on stage as parents and relatives crowded around for photos.

Padden, who said he was an “at-best average” debater in high school, sent the students off with good wishes.

“All three of us are very proud of them,” Padden said. “I hope they end up in office.”

McCaslin said he was never on a debate team but his professors at WSU constantly challenged him.

“We always had to argue for what we believed in,” McCaslin said.

Shea said he wasn’t on a debate team either, but learned to argued his points at home.

“I grew up in a large, loud Irish family,” Shea said. “There was always lots of debate around the dinner table.”


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