Youthful politics

Bunnell students put candidates to test at gubernatorial forum

Gubernatorial candidates Joe Ganim, left, Prasad Srinivasan, Dave Walker and Micah Welintukonis fielded questions from students at a gubernatorial forum last Friday at Bunnell High School. — Melvin Mason photo

Nathan Larsen has always been infatuated with the craziness of an election season.

“I love the idea of politics and being able to follow it,” said Larsen, a senior at Bunnell High School.

He closely followed last year’s presidential campaign, including the polling and the debates that seemed made for prime time television.

So imagine how excited Larsen and some of his classmates were in getting to ask questions of candidates who might rise to the governor’s office in 2019.

That was the case on Friday as Larsen and several classmates served as moderators for the Governor’s Information Forum. The forum, created by Mark Greenstein, is a way for students to get more involved in the political process.

Larsen served as a referee and some of his classmates worked as moderators, aiming questions at gubernatorial candidates Joe Ganim, Lee Whitnum, Prasad Srinivasan, Dave Walker, and Micah Welintukonis. Questions from the moderators reflected concerns that young people have, including college affordability, the state budget situation and consideration of recreational marijuana laws.

For Larsen, the forum was a great way to stimulate conversation with classmates about politics.

“Being able to expose all of my classmates to it in an environment that then I can go and talk about it with them and have a discussion about it, to me, was probably the best part of this,” Larsen said. “It’s something that’s awesome to me.”

Moderator George Bloom said it was a pleasure to be involved.

“It was an amazing experience … to really get into the political process and to take a leadership role in such an extraordinary event like this Governor’s Information Forum,” said Bloom, a senior.

A group of Bunnell High School students served as moderators for last Friday’s Governor’s Information Forum. BHS students established the format for the debate and timed the candidates’ answers. — Melvin Mason photo

The forum proved lively as students booed and held up red cards to answers they did not agree with. Comments from the candidates they agreed with were met with raucous cheering and the waving of green cards. The cards were intended as a way to respond positively or negatively without talking. But the candidates seemed to want to hear the voices of the audience.

The moderators had prepared for it since July, including establishing the format, taking their notes and preparing questions. Larsen said he felt a bit like Anderson Cooper of CNN in last year’s presidential debates when he had to rein in the candidates during some of the more intense exchanges.

Fellow moderator Kyle Sullivan said the debate was a little milder than he had anticipated.

“I honestly expected a little more heat between all of them,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he felt much of the time the candidates were trying to get their voices heard and they didn’t answer the questions as thoroughly as he might have wanted.

“A lot of the times, they ended up leaving the questions unanswered,” Sullivan said.

Larsen said he felt as though the answers to questions were blended as the candidates too often tracked back to answer earlier questions.

Greenstein said the forum offered students “a unique time” to hear from the candidates about their issues and concerns as they become active voters. He also credited the moderators and timekeepers near the front of the Bunnell High auditorium as the “future leaders” of Connecticut.

“They were asking about young persons’ issues. Most candidates, when they’re on the stump, they’re talking to the 80-year-olds and the 65-year-olds who vote a lot. These 17- and 18-year-olds got a nice mouthful today, so I’m really proud of their questions and the way the candidates answered,” said Greenstein.

Greenstein plans to take the forum to other high schools and colleges in the coming months.

About author
Editor for the Stratford Star. Former reporter for the Darien Times.

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