A Visit to the Italian Senate

By Brittany Gamlen

This past summer I studied abroad in Italy with the Baylor in Italy program.  Besides eating too much gelato and pasta, I was lucky to have the privilege of visiting the Italian Parliament.  While eating breakfast in our hotel one morning I mentioned to Dr. Smith that I was interested in visiting parliament.  One phone call later, and Dr. Smith and I had an entire day booked with parliament, including a private lunch with a congressman.  It proved to be a whirlwind, but it was unlike anything I have experienced.

After taking an early morning train, Dr. Smith and I arrived in Rome at the Senate House.  We handed over our IDs in exchange for badges that granted us access to the Senate gallery.  After passing through metal detectors, we were admitted into the main hallway of the building.  The elevator brought us to the second floor, where we were greeted by two more guards.  The guards took our personal belongings, as the senate has a strict policy against taking any photos of the senate’s session.  We were briefed on the proper behavior for observing the senate; you must sit up straight, limit your talking and not show any emotion.  Once in the gallery, the guard sat behind us during our visit so he could ensure that we continued to follow the protocol.  Furthermore, if the senate were to go into a closed conference, we would have to leave the gallery until they were finished. A closed conference could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.  To our luck, we only had to leave the gallery once for about fifteen minutes during hour two-hour visit.

The Italian political system is much different than ours.  For starters, their Senate has 315 senators, their Chamber of Deputies (the equivalent of our House of Representatives) has 630 members, and there are twelve parties.  Thus, thinks are chaotic by nature.  Each party is too small to accomplish anything of its own, so parties get together to form coalitions.  There are two main coalitions in Italy, and they get into conflict with one another the way our parties do in the United States.  People often say that Congress can never get anything done, but I can assure you our Congress is nothing like the craziness of the Italian Senate.

The morning we visited, the Senate was arguing about the best way to solve the current banking crisis (or at least that is what Dr. Smith translated for me since my Italian skills end with “ciao”).  Many senators advocated for centralizing the banks, while many others were strongly against it, and the rhetoric became incredibly heated. At one point, a female senator began yelling violently, prompting several senators to run towards her.  A few guards rushed onto the floor and formed a circle around her, preventing her from being harmed.  Like I said, the disorder of our congress is nothing compared to that of the Italian Parliament.  Even so, there was some elements that were not so different from the United States.  The senators were unfocused on the speaker and instead were on the phone were their staff, away from their desks socializing with one another, or absent from the floor entirely.  When it was time to vote, the floor suddenly became full of senators sprinting to their desks.

Maybe politics is crazy everywhere, and we do not realize how much more efficient we can be in the United States (even if it might not always seem like it).  Regardless, things are not as rambunctious as they are in the Italian Senate.


Brittany Gamlen is a senior majoring in political science.

The Supreme Court Justice Selection Process

Image courtesy of the New York Times

This week, Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch was featured on many news channels while he underwent rigorous questioning.  The somewhat controversial candidate spent this past week in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee as he attempted to complete the nomination process.  While it may seem confusing and complicated, the process for selecting a Supreme Court Justice is carefully designed to ensure that those given the position would be capable of upholding the Constitution.

The Supreme Court, or Judicial Branch of the federal government, serves a unique role in our country.  It is distinct from the other two branches primarily because of the concept of judicial review. While the legislative branch focuses on creating laws and the executive branch focuses on enforcing laws, the judicial branch focuses on determining whether or not those laws are constitutional.  Thus, Justices set out to create, not enforce, the laws of the country.  As such, Justices are intended to not be affiliated with any party to allow for the most unbiased interpretation possible.  However, Justices tend to have different philosophies on how the Constitution should be interpreted.

Therefore, the process for selecting a Supreme Court Justice involves both the Executive and Legislative Branches and not voters.  As stated in Article II of the Constitution, the President has the sole power to nominate an individual for the position.  He consults with White House staff to choose someone he thinks is qualified for the position.  The nominee then partakes in a hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee.  In the hearing, the nominee gives testimony and answers questions posed by the members of the committee.  The committee then votes to put the nominee before the Senate floor, a vote that must be unanimous in order to move forward.   If the vote is reached, the nominee is placed before the entire Senate.  The Senate then votes whether or not to confirm the nominee, a vote which must be a majority.  If a majority is achieved, the nominee can be sworn into office.

Although it might seem like the process for picking the next Supreme Court Justice is chaotic or skewed to one party, it was carefully crafted to guarantee the contrary. It allows for input from both parties and selects individuals in a manner that promotes a balanced interpretation of the Constitution.

Brittany Gamlen is a junior majoring in political science. 


Flat Tax: The Fix We Need

Image courtesy of The Washington Post

It is that time of year where you give up a Saturday to sit down, sift through your finances, and figure out how much money you owe the government.  You tell yourself that it is worth giving up your weekend and the money you could spend on that vacation you have always wanted to take because the collection of taxes is a necessary evil that enables our country to run smoothly.

Taxes are important for certain areas of the economy, but the current tax system is unnecessarily burdensome and costly.  Implementing a flat tax rate would solve many of the current problems surrounding the collection of taxes.

A flat tax would streamline the process of collecting taxes.  Currently, the tax code is so complex that the average person cannot understand it.  Besides being complicated and difficult for most Americans to understand, it is expensive.  It is estimated that Americans spend $200 billion each year in taxes either by paying someone to do their taxes or from loss in productivity.

If a flat tax rate were implemented, taxes could be simplified so they could be completed efficiently and without outside help.  It would eliminate the need for the IRS, a bureau that is known for subjectively targeting specific organizations and is not cheap to operate.  Its abolishment would save the government much manpower and money.

Furthermore, the current tax code makes it easy for corporations to game the system.  Some companies use their vast resources to find loopholes in the tax code and pay less than they are actually required.  While large companies have the means to find ways to exploit the code, small businesses do not and, as a result, they are unfairly penalized by the code.

A flat tax rate would ensure that all businesses pay the same percentage.  Similarly, all Americans would pay a set percentage regardless of their income, ensuring that everyone paid a fair amount.  Families and individuals that made below a certain amount would be exempt from taxes altogether so that those in poverty would not become financially over-burdened.

Taxes might fulfill certain functions, but they do not need to be a hassle or a large expensive.  A flat tax rate would be significantly more cost effective and simple to complete.  It would cut back on crony capitalism and guarantee that all citizens paid a fair amount they can afford.

Brittany Gamlen is a junior majoring in political science. 


Campus Carry: A Constitutional Right

Image courtesy of Truthrevolt.org

In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed a law that permits CHL holders to concealed carry on university campuses in the state of Texas.  However, the law allows private schools to opt out, and Baylor is among several private schools that decided not to allow concealed carry on campus.  Although it may sound irresponsible to let barley-functioning adults run around with guns, that is not the case.  Baylor opting into campus carry would improve the safety for students on campus.

First, it is important to realize that in order to carry on campus you must be a CHL holder. That means that you are at least 21, completed a handgun training class and passed a shooting exam.  Not only does it mean that only trained individuals will be carrying on campus, but only a small percentage of Baylor’s student body are CHL holders, and therefore, only a small percentage will be carrying on campus. It is also important to realize that law only allows concealed carry, meaning it will not be a distraction to the learning environment. Perhaps open carry could be a distraction, but a gun you cannot see cannot be a distraction. Additionally, the school is permitted to ban guns from certain areas of campus. Baylor would be able to ban firearms from specific buildings they feel appropriate. It would not be this crazy environment of students running wild with guns, but rather a handful of individuals who understand the responsibility of carrying a gun.

Currently, firearms are not permitted on Baylor’s campus. If a shooter were to come on campus students would have no way of defending themselves. This past fall semester an active shooter entered the edge of campus, causing the school to be placed on lockdown. Students on campus took cover in classrooms where they sat, defenseless. If the shooter had entered a classroom students would have become easy targets. There is a misconception that a student confronting an active shooter with a gun would make the situation more dangerous. In reality, it would take time for law enforcement to arrive on the scene, during which a student who holds a CHL would be able to calmly and accurately shoot the perpetrator.

Furthermore, concealed carry provides a way for women to defend themselves. Carrying a gun, especially a night, allows women to defend themselves if they are put in a threatening situation.  Recently, there was a string of robberies in which a male entered into females’ apartments and attempted to get into their bedrooms. Although this occurred in off-campus housing, it is possible for it to occur in university-owned housing, or for a student to be approached by a harmful individual in a parking garage on campus late at night.

The idea that campus carry would make campuses unsafe because reckless students would be carrying guns is a myth. Instead, campus would be safer because students would be able to defend themselves. A person who intends to harm others will find a way to do so, regardless of whether or not they are permitted to carry gun on campus. Banning guns from campus does not deter crime, but leaves innocent students defenseless. Carrying a gun is a constitutional right, one that should not be suspended just because you step onto campus.

Brittany Gamlen is a junior majoring in political science. 


Terminate the Department of Education?

Image courtesy of Saul Loeb

This past week, Congressman Thomas Massie filed a bill that is only a sentence long and reads, “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”  Although it is unlikely that the bill will pass, it presents an idea that might sound erratic and unrealistic at first glance.  However, the one-line bill offers an idea that would greatly improve the education system in the United States.

President Carter created the Department of Education in 1979 primarily to appease teachers’ unions after they supported his campaign.  Since then, it has continued to serve as a political tool for both parties to advance their agenda rather than a means of supporting American children’s education.  In 2001, President Bush created the No Child Left Behind Act which took an unrealistic approach to evaluating schools.  Although not responsible for creating the act, the department has worked to enforce it and see its continued existence.  More recently, President Obama’s administration furthered the Common Core State Standards initiative, dictating what teachers do in the classroom.  Thus, the department has not positively influenced the curriculum in classrooms but instead hurt the curriculum by unnecessarily controlling it.

Education is not delegated as one of the enumerated powers held by the federal government, implying that state and local governments hold authority over it. Therefore, the Department of Education is often considered unconstitutional.  Abolishing the Department of Education would return the responsibility of managing school to local government.  City and town governments are best fit to manage schools because they are familiar with the specific needs of their community.  Every town in the United States is different, and the federal government is incapable of understanding the students in each of those towns.  In contrast, local governments know the individual students in their schools and can devise curriculums that are tailored to their community.  This would create proficiency standards that are less arbitrary, as well as ensure that students are learning relevant knowledge and not being “taught to tests.” Parents would have a larger role in educating their children instead of the federal government.

Will Congressman Massie’s bill become law?  Probably not.  Yet, it is important to understand the current problems our education system faces.  Partisan politics should not be what determines the material taught in classrooms.  Abolishing the Department of Education would improve the quality of education in our country.  If nothing else, it would save the federal government billions of dollars in tax dollars.  After all, it makes more sense to pay taxes to the school down your street than to a bureaucratic branch of the government.  So, while Congressman Massie may sound radical, he might be on to something.

Brittany Gamlen is a junior majoring in political science. 


Pursuing the Majority

Image courtesy of CNN.com
Image courtesy of CNN.com

In an election where many people do not support either of the candidates from the two major parties and third party voting is at one of the highest rates in recent history, the question, “what if no one gets the majority?” is not far-fetched.  Moreover, this would not be the first time this has happened.  In the election of 1824, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, William Crawford nor Henry Clay received enough votes to win the majority of the vote.  The election went to the House of Representatives who selected John Quincy Adams.  Therefore, it is a possibility.  Regardless of the likelihood, it is worth exploring what will happen if no candidate wins a majority of the votes.

In order to win the presidential election, a candidate needs to win 50%+1 of the vote, or 270 votes in the electoral college.  If none of the candidates receive that magic number then the election goes to the House of Representatives, where they will choose a president out of the three candidates who received the most electoral votes.  Each state delegation gets one vote, so representatives from each state must come together and decide which candidate their state will be voting for.  To win, a candidate again needs to receive 50%+1 of the vote, or twenty-six votes.  Similarly, the Senate will be tasked with choosing a Vice President from the two Vice Presidential candidates that receive the most electoral votes.  Each senator can cast one vote for the candidate they think is best suited to be Vice President.  The same rule of 50%+1 applies here too, so a candidate needs fifty-one votes to be selected as Vice President.  If the House has not elected a president by inauguration day, then the Vice President-elect assumes the office of the president.

Is it likely that this will happen?  No, but it is possible (I think we said that about other events in this election that did occur).  Currently Evan McMullin, running as an Independent some states and as a write-in candidate in others, is winning the state of Utah.  If he wins Utah on Tuesday night it is certainly possible that could be enough to block either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump from getting 270 electoral votes.  So, maybe that third party vote was not a waste after all.  We will have to wait for Tuesday night to find out.

Brittany Gamlen is a junior majoring in international studies 

Why Does College Cost So Much?


Image courtesy of the Pitt Business Review
Image courtesy of the Pitt Business Review

College is expensive and therefore, the cost of tuition is an important and relevant issue to college students.  Recently, politicians with platforms to make college free or to lower the cost of tuition have become popular, and there is a mindset that college should be available to everyone.  However, what many people do not realize is that one of the biggest reasons tuition costs so much is the same reason that many people believe is the solution to the problem: the federal government tuition loan program.

In 1980, a year in college cost approximately $3,400.  Now, a year of college costs approximately  $23,000.  Even after taking inflation into account there is a large price difference, but why is that?  The loans and financial aid programs that the federal government gives out to help students pay for their tuition significantly increased during this time period.  Although well intentioned, the increase in student loans allowed colleges to raise their tuition rates.  As students are able to take out bigger loans more easily and frequently, colleges experience an increase in demand from students and as a result, raise their tuition.  While the increase in demand is the result of money the students have received from the government and not the individuals’ own money, all colleges see is that students have more money for college.

Thus, one of the first steps that can be taken to creating more affordable college costs is to scale back the federal loan program.  Perhaps returning to caps on loans, as was previously done, would help bring down the cost because students will have less money to spend.  Another possible solution is scaling back on financial-aid programs.  There is no question that college should be available to more people, but a large federal loan program increases the cost of tuition.  Additionally, students must pay back their loans, so they are not saving any money but instead are delaying their payment.  In that case, college is not more affordable, just paid for later.

As such, high college tuition rates are not just the result of the infamous “inflation,” but also the federal loans on which we rely so heavily. This is a difficult topic and not easily solved, but one thing is clear: we should not have to spend our entire lives paying off student debt.

Brittany Gamlen is a junior majoring in international studies.


What Is The Convention of States and Why Does It Matter?

Image courtesy of conventionofstates.com
Image courtesy of conventionofstates.com

The phrase “Convention of States” seems to be making headlines more than usual, especially in Texas, but what exactly does it mean?  It turns out it is not just another term you learned for your Constitutional Development class but a key part of the Constitution that ensures states maintain the right to check the power of the federal government and protect federalism.

When writing the Constitution, the authors wanted to ensure that states maintained the ability to amend the Constitution, so they included a clause in Article V that allows state legislatures to come together to propose amendments to the Constitution.  It follows a similar procedure to the one that Congress uses when they want to amend the Constitution. The process goes something like this: thirty-four states (two-thirds) pass a resolution known as an application calling for a convention, states select delegates that will represent them at the convention (usually through an election), delegates attend the convention where they vote on and hopefully pass amendments, and said amendments are sent back to the states for ratification.  For an amendment to become law it must be adopted by thirty-eight states.   A convention deals only with one issue that the states have all agreed upon, such as limiting the power of the federal government.

Although a Convention of States has never occurred, every state except for Hawaii has applied at one point or another in time.  However, last month the Citizens for Self-Governance sponsored a mock convention in order to get an idea of what a modern day convention might look like.  The convention followed an agenda which proposed amendments to impose fiscal restraints of the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and create term limits for members of Congress and elected officials.  Delegates who attended the convention broke into committees, which addressed these specific issues and drafted amendments pertaining to them.  The amendments were debated and by the end of the four days there were six amendments ready to be sent back to the states for “ratification.”  Ultimately, the convention was deemed successful and demonstrated that an actual convention would not erupt in political chaos the way some critics believe it would.

So, will an actual Convention of States happen?  The answer is maybe.  Currently, eight states have passed resolutions calling for a convention of states.  Thirty states have considered it, and it is set to be debated in many states in the 2017 legislative session (including Texas).  So while there is still a ways to go, the movement is gaining momentum.  At a time when the federal government appears to be increasing its power and American politics is more chaotic than usual, it is a credible answer to many of the challenges the country faces.  Regardless, it is too soon to write it off as impossible and stop exploring the idea.

Brittany Gamlen is a junior majoring in international studies. 

The Debate Question That Won’t Get Asked Monday Night


After a hectic and unconventional election season with many unexpected twists and turns, the nation is gearing up to watch the first presidential primary on Monday.  This highly anticipated debate will give voters a chance to get a better feel for the two candidates with some of the lowest likeability ratings ever recorded.  Many people will watch the debates with no intention of voting for either candidate, but simply because they are curious to see how the election will continue to play out.  Even so, the debate we will watch on Monday not will not give us the answers we are looking for.Despite the public’s strong opposition to the candidates, both sides’ parties

Despite the public’s strong opposition to the candidates, both sides’ parties continue to release fear-mongering statements about the importance of winning the election, even going as far as to say that this is the most important election and if the other side wins then there will not be another election.   The media continues to frame the election in terms of black and white, overemphasizing issues like Clinton’s health and Trump’s donors when in reality there are substantive problems with the candidate’s policies.   Trump will not give an explanation for how he is going to make Mexico pay for the wall and Clinton will not give an explanation for her email scandals.  The candidates will not be asked why they have both changed parties and opinions on major issues like abortion and gay marriage.  They will find ways to dodge questions about the policy changes made in the last few months of their campaign, which greatly alter their platforms.

Instead, the point of the debate will be for the two candidates to attack and demonize one another in order to scare voters into voting for their party.  The election is based around attention grabbing headlines and potential scandals on both sides of the race, shifting the focus from who is the candidate that will do the most good for the country to who is the lesser of two evils.  As American people, we deserve better.  We deserve to compare candidates on issues of policy and cast a vote for the person who we believe best reflects our beliefs.  We deserve to see a debate stage that represents more than just two parties, after all, elections are not binary choices.   We deserve to get full and unbiased coverage from the media throughout the election cycle.  We also deserve to have this question answered: without mentioning your opponent’s name, why should the American people vote for you?

These things will only change if we make an effort to get involved and see that they change, and this starts with being politically aware.  When you watch the debate (which you should even if you despise the candidates because one of them is our next president), think of the issues you want to know more about and research them.  Think of the questions you want to be answered and call your representatives and ask them.

The debate will begin at 8 pm CST on CNN and other major news networks.

Brittany Gamlen is a junior majoring in international studies.