YOUTH MOVEMENT /Students at Hillsboro High initiate political forum with gubernatorial candidates—their own age

The four high-school age gubernatorial candidates wait to share their views. From left: Alexander Klein (standing in for Jack Bergerson of Wichita); Ethan Randleas, a Libertarian candidate from Wichita; Tyler Ruzich, a Repub­li­­can from Prairie Village; and Dominic Scavuzzo, a Republican from Leawood.Adults who assume modern youth couldn’t care less about politics, current events and the future of their world may have been surprised to know that it isn’t true everywhere.

Last Tuesday, a student-driven discussion group at Hillsboro High School, called “Think Twice,” organized and hosted what may be one of the largest forums involving official candidates running for Kansas governor.

The four candidates who participated were invited not so much because of their political party or platform, but because of their age.

Six high students in Kansas officially have filed for the state’s top office. Four teen candidates accepted the invitation to respond to questions from their peers and to share their views with fellow students.

On hand were:

◼ Alexander Klein, who stood in for Democrat Jack Bergerson of Wichita; Klein is Bergerson’s lieutenant governor running mate;

◼ Ethan Randleas, a Libertarian candidate from Wichita;

◼ Tyler Ruzich, a Repub­li­­can from Prairie Village;

◼ Dominic Scavuzzo, a Republican from Leawood.

Joseph Tutera Jr., a republican from Mission Hills, and Aaron Coleman, an independent from Over­land Park, were unable to attended because of scheduling conflicts.

To broaden the exposure, Think Twice invited the seniors from the other high schools in Marion County. Of the four, Marion, Centre and Goessel participated.

The forum began with the candidates introducing themselves and their reasons for running for the state’s highest office. Most felt it was time for a new generation to step up and participate in the political process.

All the questions that were asked during the forum came from students of the four participating schools.

To broaden local support, the Think Twice group invited the student council to participate in the planning. Amanda Bartel, student council president, contacted the other schools and invited the seniors to attend.

Two seniors representing each of the three area schools were asked to come up with a question they would like to have answered.

Once the area seniors asked their questions, the Think Twice panel, sitting on stage with the candidates, asked the questions that had been submitted by local students.

The forum, which started at 2 p.m., was limited to one hour to accommodate the end-of-school schedule of the other three area schools.

The forum topics ranged from legalizing marijuana for medical, recreational and tax revenue purposes, raising the minimum wage in Kansas to $12 to $15 per hour, addressing infrastructure challenges, reducing government regulation and improving public schools to name a few.

Janet Whisenhunt, director of the Wiebe Media Center, encouraged students to host the forum and do it as professionally as possible.

The group created an information handout with photos and names of the candidates, and included voter registration cards to enable 18-year-old seniors to register to vote if they had not already done so.

“The kids have been talking about (the forum) and they want to do more,” Whisenhunt said afterward. “I think it’s a sense of pride that they thought of this and organized this. We learned that we’re the only school that has offered this sort of forum for the candidates.”

Think Twice members wait for their opportunity to share questions submitted by Hillsboro students. Seniors from Marion, Centre and Goessel high schools participated in the forum, and contributed questions as well.Think Twice is talking about hosting another debate later in the year and have invited the candidates to come back and have lunch with the seniors.

Whisenhunt said the students would like to visit with the over-age-18 candidates who have filed, too.

“It’s their interest in their community, their country and what’s going on,” she said about the planning group. “They think they will take an active part in community service after they graduate.”

Whisenhunt said the student are taking “Think Twice” to heart.

“It’s about I may disagree with my friend or neighbor, but we’re all in this together,” Whisenhunt said. “We’ve got to get along.”

She added that the event would not have happened without the support of Superintendent Max Hein­richs and HMHS Principal Clint Corby.

“They encouraged the debate as thinking outside the box,” she said.

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