TWIN FALLS — Three candidates vying for an Idaho House seat in District 24 appeared at a forum geared toward an unlikely audience Wednesday morning: people too young to vote.
Republican Linda Wright Hartgen, Democrat Deborah Silver and Constitution Party candidate Anthony Tompkins spoke to a crowd of students at Twin Falls High School, answering questions on their backgrounds, platforms and views on several hot-button issues.
“I just thought it was really important for our students to get a chance to see some of the things we had been talking about in the classroom in the real world,” said Meagan Glorfield, a government teacher who organized the event.
Policy questions directed at the candidates were submitted by students and chosen according to which topics the classes rated as most important to them, Glorfield said. A list of pre-written questions for the candidates included questions on abortion, police body cameras, refugees, restrictions on guns and the death penalty.
There was only time for two policy-related questions Wednesday morning, however: one dealing with the cost of college and one asking the candidates for their stances on legalizing medical and recreational marijuana.
On the marijuana question, the candidates differed. Wright Hartgen said she opposed recreational marijuana but could be open to some forms of medical marijuana if “it’s controlled and ... made properly, not made in someone’s bathtub.”
Silver said she believed the state should legalize medical marijuana and indicated that she was open to decriminalizing recreational marijuana — a response that prompted some cheers from the audience.
“It shouldn’t always come back to taxes,” Silver said. “But I do have to look at the states around us and look at how many people are going to move to the next state.”
Tompkins said he supports the decriminalization of medical marijuana, but opposes recreational marijuana until the federal government changes its stance on it.
The other student-produced policy question asked the candidates how they intended to make college education affordable.
Silver and Wright Hartgen both said they thought it could be useful for the state to reevaluate some of the tax deductions added in past years.
Tompkins, who told the crowd of students he did not attend college himself, encouraged students to explore other post-graduation possibilities.
“We need to change our definition of what education is,” Tompkins said, citing the high number of industry and agriculture jobs in south-central Idaho and the vocational training opportunities available to gain the skills needed to perform them.
Seniors Geoffrey Leishman and Josie McDonald, who are currently in the midst of the college application process, said the education question resonated particularly closely with them.
“I’ll be going on to college and having to deal with student loans,” Leishman said. “Seeing that they are paying attention to that is a good thing.”
McDonald said she wished the candidates had talked more about another one of the topics on the students’ list of priorities: abortion.
“Abortion’s a very big issue to me,” McDonald said. “There are girls in this high school who I know who have accidents. I didn’t hear a lot about that today, which was upsetting because they think that it doesn’t relate to us, when it really does.”
McDonald, who is 17, won’t be able to vote in this November’s election. Leishman, 18, said he planned to register to vote — as an independent — later that day.
“Especially before I get to the voting age, it was interesting to see this is how this happens,” McDonald said.