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Candidates Face Eighth Graders At Special Forum
By Norwood Long, Special To The Standard
Twenty candidates for Vermont state and national political offices met with the entire eighth grade in the Woodstock Union Middle School library in a “fact finding” session on Wednesday, Oct. 17.
As explained on the school’s website, “Originally begun by eighth-grade social studies teacher Mike Young, each election year during the last 10 years the eighth graders have invited local, state, and national candidates for office running in the November elections to attend this informal meet-and-greet with the eighth-grade class. The event is very well attended, and all eighth-grade students have the opportunity to spend time in the library in small groups to introduce themselves, ask questions, and engage in discussion with the candidates about current events and issues facing American citizens and Vermonters in particular.”
This year the candidates included all three incumbent Windsor County senators Dick McCormack, Alice Nitka, and John Campbell, and one challenger, Dick Tracy; Rutland County senator Jim Carris; incumbent representatives to the Vermont House Alison Clarkson (Windsor 5) and Jim Eckhardt (Rutland-Windsor 1), and challenger Anne Gallivan (Rutland-Windsor 1); incumbent Vermont secretary of state Jim Condos; challenger for Vermont attorney general, Jack McMullen; independent candidate for Vermont governor, Emily Paden; and two challengers for national office, Mark Donka for the U.S. House of Representatives and John McGovern for the U. S. Senate. All the other candidates are running for justice of the peace in Woodstock: incumbents Mary Reilly, Susan and Jim Ford, and Dwight and Kay Camp, and newcomers Jack Hunter and Meg Matz.
The eighth graders came in two groups, and for each group the format was the same: the candidates stood on one side of a line of tables and the students stood on the other while the candidates gave their names and a little information about themselves. Except for the two Republican challengers running for national office none of the candidates identified their party affiliations. Dwight and Kay Camp got an appreciative response when Dwight said they had met and fallen in love in the eighth grade in Woodstock. Then everyone got together in small groups where one or two of the students asked a candidate questions they had prepared in advance.
Secretary of State Jim Condos said this was the largest group of candidates he had seen collected anywhere in Vermont, and Representative Alison Clarkson said the students were well prepared and asked very good questions this year. With a hundred or more conversations taking place over the course of two hours what follows is necessarily only a small sampling of interactions.
Jenna Majeski asked Representative Clarkson her views on capital punishment; Representative Clarkson replied that she doesn’t support capital punishment, and Vermont does not have it. Jett Young then asked Representative Clarkson her views on drugs; she replied she advocates decriminalizing possession of one ounce of marijuana or less, and would like to see more effort on treating addiction.
Jim Ford was asked by Andrew Buchan-Groff what the duties of Justice of the Peace are; he replied that the ones he most frequently met were acting as an election official, and dealing with tax abatement and arbitration problems.
In response to McKayla Potwin’s question why he was running for the U. S. House of Representatives, Mark Donka replied he was worried about the financial future of America, and how it would affect young students like McKayla.
Molly Heme asked Alice Nitka her views on the use of drugs in Vermont. Senator Nitka replied that a major and growing problem is prescription opiates such as oxycontin and oxycodone, which command large prices on the street. She said students should be aware what is in their medicine cabinets.
Forrest Harrington and Tyler Chynoweth talked with state Attorney General candidate Jack McMullen. Asked about the duties of the attorney general, McMullen replied that the attorney general provides review and oversight of the state’s laws, and can uncover problems with the creation and enforcement of those laws. In reply to Chynoweth’s question, “Why did you decide to run for attorney general?,” McMullen said that it was enforcement of drug laws in Vermont. “What about drug law enforcement would you do differently?” asked Chynoweth. McMullen answered that each of the state’s attorneys in Vermont’s counties interprets and applies drug laws independently; he would like to see a uniform and consistent approach.
A group of students surrounded Senator Dick McCormack. Chance Smith asked why he had wanted to be a senator. McCormack said it gave him a chance to become involved in understanding and resolving serious issues in Vermont, and that he was good at it. Miranda Johnson asked why terms for senator were for 6 years; McCormack answered that both nationally and in Vermont there was belief that a longer term allowed for more continuity and stability in the legislative process. When Madison Moore asked, “What are your ideas for new laws in Vermont?” McCormack replied that child care employees and professionals are currently required to operate as independent contractors, and he believed they should have the right to engage in collective bargaining. Abigail Glotti asked how Vermont senators differed from Vermont representatives. McCormack answered there are a hundred representatives and only thirty senators; a senator represents a whole county, while a representative represents a smaller district. Representatives, he said, become focused on the people in their district, while a senator is required to take a broader view.
A portion of these photos and this article first appeared in the Nov 1, 2012 print edition of the Vermont Standard.
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