KEENE VALLEY - Keene Central School students hosted a robust discussion of political issues from the perspective of all six political parties on the presidential ballot in New York state on Thursday night.
About 30 people attended the event, which was held in the school's auditorium. Seniors from Brad Hurlburt's government class worked with adult advisors to present on the parties and their candidates, including Democrat Barack Obama, Republican Mitt Romney, Jill Stein of the Green Party, Peta Lindsey of the Socialism and Liberation Party, Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party.
Hurlburt said the forum wasn't a class assignment, and the students weren't given grades for their presentations. He said his students watched all three presidential debates and then expressed a curiosity about third-party candidates.
Seniors in Brad Hurlburt’s government class discuss American political parties during a forum at Keene Central School on Thursday.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
"We started doing some research, and one of our students - Sam Balzac - is very interested in the Green Party platform," Hurlburt said. "Along with his family's support (Sam's father Fred Balzac is a liberal political activist), we got this idea of putting together a forum in which we had students researching the six parties that are represented on the New York state ballot for president and getting adult representatives that were familiar with the party, or even active with the party, to come in and support the discussion."
At the beginning of the forum, each student laid out the core values and beliefs of the political party they researched. The students went on to discuss a wide range of issues, including the economy, job growth, health care, the environment, civil liberties, war, constitutional rights, and race and gender equality.
The adult advisors included active members of the political parties as well as volunteers. Assembly candidate Dan Stec took a break from his campaign and traveled from Queensbury to partner with Jeffrey Bruha, who presented for the Republican Party.
Party forum roster
At Thursday's forum in Keene Valley, six students were paired with six adult advisors to present on and discuss six political parties (student listed first):
-Hannah McCabe and Phyllis Buchanan, Democratic Party
-Jeffrey Bruha and Dan Stec, Republican Party
-Sam Balzac and Steve Ruzbachi, Green Party
-Jack Van Wie and Ray Losso, Socialism and Liberation Party
-Victoria Patenaude and Monique Weston, Libertarian Party
-Athena Pepe and Arlene Geib, Constitution Party
Bruha and Hannah McCabe, who researched the Democratic Party, began the discussion, sharing views similar to those discussed by Obama and Romney throughout the presidential campaign. From there, the other students laid out the platforms of some lesser-known political parties.
Sam Balzac presented on the Green Party. He said the public often associates the party with environmental advocacy, but its mission is actually much broader. He discussed the Green New Deal, a plan to bring the U.S. out of recession while advancing environmentally sound policies.
"The Green New Deal seeks to reduce unemployment by creating government jobs, slow down climate change by encouraging the development of wind and solar technologies, fix our financial situation by reorganizing America's banking system, preserve democracy by expanding voting rights, and decrease military spending," Balzac said.
Jack Van Wie explained how the Socialism and Liberation Party's aim is to "stop the domination of the working class by the wealthy few," and Athena Pepe discussed how the Constitution Party's strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution dictates its platform and beliefs.
The presentations revealed some stark differences between political parties on issues like same-sex marriage, abortion and the economy. Not surprisingly, the Democratic, Green and Socialism and Liberation parties favor more government regulation of banks and corporations, while the Republicans and Libertarians want a more hands-off approach.
But on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, very different parties - like the Libertarians and the Socialists - have a lot in common.
"The Libertarian Party wants to decrease our involvement outside of our country," Victoria Patenaude said. "They want to emphasize defense and de-emphasize offense. They do want to maintain sufficient military but stop trying to act like the policemen for the world."
Van Wie said his party agrees with that approach.
"When we find ourselves in situations like these (wars), we tend to make them worse, actually," he said. "Our (party's) policy is to stay out of there and let them kind of figure out what they want to do by themselves."
The students used party websites and campaign literature for the bulk of their research. They also reached out to members of the various political parties directly. After the forum, students like Patenaude said the project enriched their view of American politics.
"I have grown up kind of black and white, like it's Republican or Democrat," she said. "I've heard of the other parties, but I didn't really know about them. ... Doing this project, I saw Libertarian on the whiteboard as an option, and I was like, 'I don't know that party; I'm not familiar with them. I'll choose that one.' And I learned so much about them, and I actually agree with a lot of what they say - not all of it. It was still a really good learning experience because if I don't know of them, it's like, 'They must not be popular; maybe they don't have a lot of good stuff.' But I was really impressed with everything they said."
Lora Goulet of Jay attended the forum and was impressed.
"I thought it was really great to see these young kids that are going to be voting soon get so familiar with the issues in such great depth," she said.
Hurlburt said he thought the event was a success.
"I did not want it to be a debate but more of a discussion and a forum," he said. "I was really pleased that it seemed like a really supportive environment for the students to show the research that they had done."
The government class will continue its dialogue about national politics on Wednesday as it breaks down Election Day results.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.