MTPR

High Schoolers Pitch Tough Questions At Tester Town Hall

Jan 5, 2018

The sun isn’t even fully up halfway through first period at Glacier High School in Kalispell, but students keep filing into the performance hall, a note card with a question in each of their hands.

"Hopefully your government teachers prepared you for that," Beau Wright, a history and civics teacher at Glacier High School announced. "We're looking for good policy questions."

On Friday, Wright hosted Senator Jon Tester for a student-driven town hall. About 140 juniors and seniors from Glacier and Stillwater Christian Academy attended. They did not hold back with their questions for the senator.

"Being that the U.S. is a two-party system, do you feel that limits the American voter in any way, say if we had a multi-party system like the U.K.?" one young man asked.

"When you said we don't need another band-aid to fix regarding veterans affairs, what are some examples of those types of fixes and what would you like to see in the future?" asked another.

"In light of recent sexual misconduct allegations with in congress and the white house, do you still support these men? Why or why not? And have you taken action to make your workplace safer for women?" a young woman queried.

"What is your opinion of President Trump's tweets?"

Senator Tester faced the questions head on.

"His tweets? Well I wish he would put the phone away," Tester said.

A lot of students were curious how Tester, a Democrat, feels he represents Republicans in Montana.

"It's an interesting tightrope to walk," he said. "I've got to tell you that there's Democrats and Republicans in this state. When I was in the state legislature going door to door, most of the things we all agree on. I would say maybe close to 80 or 90 percent of the things, we all agree on. It's that 10 percent. So we’ve got to minimize that ten as much as we can. I mean truthfully, we're different but we're not a lot different."

Tester fielded questions for almost an hour. In his closing remarks, he said he didn’t want to sound too much like a dad, but added, "Everybody in this room, if they want to apply themselves, can do anything they want. They can do anything they want in this world if you want to work hard enough at it, and make your mind work. I don’t care if you’re in special ed or if you’re on the honor roll. You have the ability to apply yourself and do what you want."

Most of the students at the town hall are gearing up to cast their first ballots next fall. Claire Stefanatz recently registered to vote. She said hearing Senator Tester talk about his policy positions is part of how she’ll make her decision next November.

"I also think that it's fundamental when you become an adult that you have to have your own opinions and be able to use your voice," Stefanatz said. "I think that this experience really helped lot of people including me have a say and what to do with it. Yeah, I think it was a really good experience."

"I'm just grateful we all had the opportunity," said Taylor Fortin. "Most high schoolers don't get to talk to one of the United State senators, and it really had an impression on me."

The town hall was part of advanced elective course for juniors and seniors, so most of the students there have an above-average interest in politics. Nathan Mayhak was happy for the chance to engage in a tete-a-tete with the senator.

"I thought it was really great that since we are going to be voting next November, that it’s really important that we were all able to ask questions, so we can see who we're voting for, how he represents us in the Senate, and it’s very awesome that we had that opportunity," Mayhak said.

Jaden Woeppel says he and his peers are growing up in a tough time. Politics are gridlocked and polarized, and it’s hard to know what kind of information to trust.

"Our generation gets a lot of media, it's hard to say whether or not it's going to inform them more or get them more confused," Woeppel said.

Woeppel adds he’s glad his current classes teach media literacy.

Montana’s primaries for the 2018 midterm election are on June 5. Information about the upcoming election and how to register is on the Secretary of State website.