Laura Doukas reassured the group that her guests were coming. One had already cancelled. The others showed up late.
She booked the room for an hour and a half, starting at 6 p.m. At 6:20, she said, she got nervous.
“I thought they would show up at 10 minutes to 7,” she said. “Which wouldn’t have been good.”
Her worries soon faded as New York State Sen. John J. Flanagan arrived at the Wang Center in a dark suit as organizers carried in another table to accommodate the larger-than-expected audience.
Doukas is president of Stony Brook’s chapter of the College Republicans. Last semester, she booked controversial commentator Dinesh D’Souza for an appearance. Tuesday night, she hosted a trio of state senators.
According to Doukas, the College Republicans are trying to increase awareness on what they say is a traditionally liberal campus.
“She’s really brought the club in a new direction,” Paul Grindle, a sophomore political science major and the club’s treasurer, said. That new direction centers around guest speakers who can get young people politically motivated.
“I’ve been in office 27 years, and I’m still considered a young Republican,” Flanagan said to the students. “But frankly we need to do a lot more recruiting of people your age. For me to see a good size group here of people your age is awesome.”
Flanagan is the senator for New York’s Second Senate District, which includes Stony Brook. He was also involved in securing funds for the new Campus Recreation Center, which opened last semester, and he called it one of SBU’s “marquee accomplishments.”
It is an example, he said, of government involvement and not impediment.
“Government should play a role in people’s lives,” Flanagan said. “But not guide people’s lives.”
Across campus, the College Democrats were also building awareness. Ian Schwarz, 21, handed out fliers during Campus Life Time and invited anyone interested in politics, regardless of party, to come down to a meeting.
When Lee Zeldin, the New York Senator from the Third District, arrived in jeans and a corduroy jacket, with a pink shirt and no tie, he made an appeal to the audience. Regardless of party, he said, everyone should vote.
“There are no such things as problems,” he said. “There are challenges and opportunities.”
The challenge in this case is low voter turnout in most parts of New York that both senators said they saw an opportunity to remedy.
According to Flanagan, his Second District has one of the highest voter turnouts in New York at almost 75 percent. In some places, he said, only about one in 10 registered voters makes it to the polls.
Still, Flanagan campaigns in person asking voters to remember him on Election Day. He leaves the suit at home — saying he does not want to look like he is trying to sell something.
“There’s nothing that beats door to door campaigning, absolutely nothing,” he said. “When you show up at somebody’s house, they never forget you.”
Zeldin said he agreed that it is very important to build enthusiasm among likely allies, but that the challenge did not end there.
“There may be somewhere else on campus where college Democrats are getting together,” he said. “And I would say this to them as well: It’s very important for everyone to get involved and, it doesn’t matter what your political affiliation is.”
The president of the Stony Brook College Democrats, Jenn Williams, a senior pre-medical psychology major, agreed. She said she encourages voters to scrutinize each candidate before voting.
“Parties to me are just alignments of similar views,” she said. “That doesn’t mean everyone in the party thinks the same way.”
The audience saw a glimpse of that notion when Flanagan (against) and Zeldin (for) disagreed on the idea of placing term limits on state legislators. Zeldin, who failed in a bid for Congress in 2008, also made a point that voters in every party might agree with: Politicians spend too much time politicking and not enough time governing.
“In Washington there are people in both parties who believe there’s only time for politics,” he said. “There’s no way for one party to get their way all the time. Compromise is not a bad thing. I believe the partisan bickering down in Washington is literally destroying our country.”