Civic process: West Forsyth students pose questions for local candidates during forum

Published 12:10 am Thursday, October 26, 2023

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CLEMMONS — It’s election season, which means that candidates are answerable to their constituents now more than ever.

Although still under the voting age, members of West Forsyth’s government and politics class moderated a forum for village officials to state their positions on matters the students deemed important.

Joining in the auditorium at West Forsyth, Clemson Mayor Mike Rogers and village council members Mike Combest and Bradley Taylor sat in for a candidate forum hosted by those students. Village council member Randy Wooden could not attend the forum because he was at a planning board meeting, but senior Matthew Lee filled in for him.

Questions for the candidates included typical inquiries such as why they would make worthy candidates. The students were also interested in learning about the candidates’ plans for growth, development and fiscal priorities.

For the students, it was a chance to take an active role in the political process, even if most of them cannot vote in this current election. Lee, who is a senior, is eager for next year when he will be able to cast his first official ballot.

“I try my best (to stay politically engaged),” Lee said. “I don’t do a whole lot of following in terms of news sites, but my parents are always up to date on that type of stuff, and we’ll always have the news on at some point.”

When his teacher advertised roles for the forum, Lee was happy to be Wooden’s fill-in.

“Our teacher put a sign up for our class to see if anyone wanted to fill the role,” Lee said. “If I can try and be involved with the community, I thought I might as well.”

Lee had a script prepared by Wooden, and he kept to it throughout the forum.

“I wanted to be as engaged with the audience as best I could, but at the same time, it’s a little difficult when you have a whole script you are reading off of,”

He wanted to make sure he kept to Wooden’s prepared remarks so as not to misrepresent the candidate in any way. For the senior, it was not his first time on the auditorium stage, even if it was his first time answering forum questions. It did not seem to bother him, though.

“I’m in the school orchestra,” Lee said. “Usually, when I am on the stage playing my cello, it’s all sweat coming down to focus, but today, for whatever reason, it seemed to come naturally. I felt pretty relaxed.”

Lee won’t rule out a future in politics, but he was hesitant to say he sees it as a legitimate opportunity for him.

“I think I would like to be involved in my community in some way,” Lee said. “I just don’t know if politics is the route I would take.”

Lee’s fellow senior Ashley Myers might not have been filling in for a candidate, but she had a pretty important role all the same.

“My role was to time,” Myers said. “We got here early and practiced timing things, so I had my phone up and was timing everything.

“I felt a little pressure from that role because you want to keep everything fair for all the candidates, but I think it went pretty smoothly.”

Myers, like her fellow students, submitted questions of interest that she wanted fielded from the candidates. Although Myers’ submissions for questions did not make the final round, several of the ones she supported did.

“The one I enjoyed hearing about the most was the questions about amenities,” Myers said. “That is the one that affects the citizens the most. That is kind of like our day-to-day life and the things that impact our lives the most.”

Like Lee, Myers is not able to vote in this election, but she said she still tries to stay abreast of local politics.

“Since I will be able to vote next year, now more than ever, I want to be more informed and prepared to vote next year,” Myers said.

A couple of the students have a bit longer to wait before they can formally vote.

Tenth graders Isabel Gil and Maggie Guo wouldn’t let that stop them from being part of the forum.

“I care enough because it is my country, and I want to know what is going on, and I want to learn how my government is being run because one day I will have to be involved,” Gil said. “I think it is important to have some sort of understanding about that.”

One question that stood out to Gil and Guo was the question about taking on debt.

“Would they be willing to take on debt?” Gil said. “It was really nice to hear them all answer that they would not want to take on debt. In my mind, debt is not a good thing, so that is something we would not want to have.”

Despite being a few years removed from voting age, they were still active in drafting questions for the candidates.

“(To come up with the questions) We were brainstorming ideas about how Clemmons could be improved, and we all just had them written down and then sent in,” Guo said.