This article was originally published in the Chicago Tribune.

By Brian L. Cox

Wilmette Junior High School student Raz Allon said he hopes to get his law degree one day then consider politics.

"I'm actually more interested in being a politician for Israel because I was born there," Allon said. "But if I had a chance of being the secretary of state or even a senator, I'd be very much interested."

Allon, 13, was one of more than 100 students and parents who turned out for a recent candidate forum held at the school. The event was sponsored by The League of Woman Voters of Wilmette, and featured Democrat Laura Fine and Republican Kathy Myalls, candidates to represent the 17th District in the Illinois House of Representatives.

This was the first time the league allowed all the questions to be submitted by seventh and eighth grade students, who wrote down what they wanted to know during a social studies class, said Lali Watt, a league spokesperson. While around 100 questions were expected, almost 500 were submitted.

"We have been blown away by the interest the kids have shown," Watt said, adding that the idea was to show the students democracy in action, state and federal government, and the U.S. Constitution, which many of them are currently studying.

The two candidates fielded more than a dozen questions during the forum on a wide range of topics, including conceal and carry, the environment, fracking, the minimum wage, the death penalty, term limits, Common Core standards in schools, bullying and cyber bullying, health insurance and the Affordable Care Act, and standardized testing.

Although the students can't vote Nov. 4, both candidates made sure they acknowledged their young audience.

"I know how hard it is to get out on a weeknight," Fine said in her opening remarks. "You've got school work. You've got activities. You have to have dinner. I have two teenage boys at home. I know the challenge that you had to meet in order to be here, and I really do appreciate it."

 

Myalls also thanked the students and their parents.

"I was so excited when somebody called me and said 'would you do a debate against your opponent at the junior high school?'" she said. "I remember when I was in junior high school, I grew up in Northbrook. When I walked through the doors here, it brought back a lot of memories."

Margaret Lasonde, 12 , said she submitted a question on "term limits," something the seventh grader said she would like to see passed.

"I think everyone deserves the chance to be in the government," Lasonde said. "I think everyone has different ideas to contribute to our country. We already have term limits for the president so why not have it for the senate and the house of representatives?"

Allon said he was eager to attend the forum because he is a debater. The two questions he submitted were: "How will you make Wilmette transportation greener?" and "How will you get Wilmette on the map?"

But he also confessed that his interests in politics reach beyond Wilmette and that if he were made U.S. Secretary of State tomorrow, he'd have a plan.

"I'd focus my thoughts on both Africa and the Middle East because they're the global hot spots for both terrorism and war," he said. "I'd also pay attention to North Korea because they're also a hot spot."

 

URL: 
http://lwv.org/content/debate-kids-ask-questions