By Jess Wisloski
Candidates for state and national offices showed up to teach students about civics and Vermont leadership at Williston Central School’s traditional Candidates’ Forum on Friday morning.
The Al Myers Auditorium was backed with middle-school aged students, who grilled the candidates in attendance about their stances and visions for the state of Vermont.
“It’s a great opportunity to inform students and educate them about the political issues facing voters in the November elections,” said Aron Merrill, a Williston Central School teacher and member of the social studies committee, which arranged the event.
In the next few weeks, he told the Observer, the school would likely follow up with a mock vote, for students to cast their ballots on who should win statewide.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) and Rep. Peter Welch (D) represented incumbents from Washington on the panel, with U.S. Senate hopeful Scott Milne (R), who is vying for Leahy’s seat, also in attendance. Lieutenant Governor candidates state Sen. David Zuckerman (D), and former senator and Auditor of Accounts Randy Brock (R) were there, as well as opponents for the Attorney General seat, state’s attorney T.J. Donovan (D) and attorney Deborah Bucknam (R). Beth Pierce, the Democratic incumbent for Treasurer also spoke, but her rival, Murray Ngoima, of the Liberty Union, was not present.
Hand-drawn posters identified each of the candidates, who sat at a long table on the stage at the front of the theater. Two students played time-keepers, and rang a bell when a speaker ran too long.
While students came up one at a time and asked prepared questions into a microphone, the candidates listened attentively and took turns answering them. The event was closed to the public, but can be viewed on RETN online, at retn.org/show/2016-candidate-forum-williston-central-school
“I thought it was very cool to see how everyone could be with each other and set aside differences, though they’re running against each other, to state what they were for. I feel like they geared their issues towards the students and what we thought was important,” Olivia Francisco, 13, said. “My favorite questions were about the lake and keeping it clean. I think Patrick Leahy did a very good job.”
Before the conclusion of the forum, Brock implored students to get involved in Vermont state politics, at any level, no matter what their personality, culture or family type.
“It doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, or what your economic background is. It doesn’t matter what your race, your color, your religion, your sexual orientation, your gender, your ability or disability [is]. There’s a place in politics and leadership roles in Vermont for everyone,” he said. “If you’re shy, if you’re outgoing, you don’t even have to be very smart,” he said, to laughter. “The point is this, it involves you.”
Senator Leahy presented a flag that had been flown over the U.S. Capitol to the school, which was accepted by Mindy Conry, chair of the WCS social studies committee.
Jake Bialowoz, 12, said he appreciated seeing the candidates. “I think you learned a lot out of it. I thought it was just really fun to listen to everyone.”