Personalizing the political process at Black Hills High

Candidates forum: Black Hills High students receive unique insights, show knack for predicting presidents

lpemberton@theolympian.comOctober 22, 2012 

In the classroom The political candidates talked about the national debt, health care reform and job creation.

But what hot-button issues did Black Hills High School students ask them to address during question-and-answer sessions?

“Marijuana was the big one,” said senior Brian Baldwin, 18. “And gay marriage was another big one.”

About a dozen candidates and campaign representatives for several political races – including president, governor, legislative district and secretary of state – participated in the Black Hills High School candidates forum Friday. The all-school event, which included a mock election, was created to give students a memorable lesson in the election process, said social studies teacher George Rother.

“Too often, politics for young people is kind of distant and impersonal,” he said.

Black Hills has offered a candidates forum every four years since 2000, the first presidential-election year that occurred after the school opened in 1997.

It is one of the largest school-based candidate forums in the region, Rother said.

“As far as I know, we’re the only one where the entire school does it,” he said. “It’s not just the kids in civics or government class.”

The school’s roughly 900 students spent the morning rotating between two gyms and the Performing Arts Center to hear candidates make pitches and respond to questions.

Garry Holland, a state worker and representative from Mitt Romney’s campaign, showed a YouTube video that featured clips from the Republican National Convention.

He also praised Romney’s business experience and told students that the national debt will continue to rise if President Barack Obama is re-elected.

“We can’t wait four more years,” Holland said.

Meantime, former state legislator Brendan Williams, who represented Obama’s campaign, told students that the Republicans aren’t telling the whole story with the video because it doesn’t say anything about President George W. Bush.

“Cleaning up the mess that this president inherited has been a mighty ordeal,” Williams said.

After the candidates forum, students cast ballots in a mock election. Results weren’t scheduled to be released until today, but Rother noted that it should be interesting to watch because Black Hills students seem to have a gift of predicting presidents.

“In regards to the presidential election, I think we’ve called it every time,” he said.

Baldwin, who helped oversee ballot distribution for the mock election, said he has watched some of the debates on television but felt the candidates forum better prepared him for casting his first real ballot in a few weeks.

“There were a lot of viewpoints that I didn’t think about,” he said.

Sophomore Jack Steele, 15, said he walked away from the forum with “a deeper understanding of how our government works, and what people are trying to do to change it.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 @Lisa_Pemberton

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