Students host legislative debates

IDAHO FALLS — Imagine a legislative debate where high school students call the shots. It happened twice this week.

On Tuesday, seniors at Idaho Falls-based Compass Academy hosted a public debate for candidates in Idaho’s Legislative District 33, which encompasses part of Bonneville County. The debate followed a similar event from Monday, which featured candidates from neighboring Legislative District 30.

It’s all part of the school’s push to host community-driven events, said senior Priya Lasya Tumukuru, who managed the debates.

“They give students a chance to explore things they are interested in,” Lasya Tumukuru said.

Lasya Tumukuru and other seniors from the school’s combined government-English class performed several tasks to bring the events to the public:

  • Forming stage, camera, sound and lighting crews.
  • Forming a panel of students to pitch questions to candidates and monitor their response times.
  • Drafting and asking a range of policy-related questions.

Topics ranged from climate change and taxes to medicade expansion and education. Some 50 locals attended.

Students from Compass Academy run a timer during Tuesday’s legislative debate.

Though incumbent Republican House member Barbara Ehardt noted the “pleasantly civil” tone between candidates Tuesday, things heated up Monday.

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“It actually got pretty testy,” Post Register reporter Nathan Brown said of the first debate.

And that’s not a bad thing for senior Maya Reddin, who sat on Tuesday’s panel. Reddin outlined students’ twofold goal heading into the debates: helping inform voters and getting more people to turn out on Election Day.

“It’s very important,” she said.

Holly Dasher and Arik Durfee, who team teach the school’s combined government-English class, said the event caps off a lot of preparatory work from students, including in-depth research about the issues, a term paper and requirements to reach out to candidates before the debates.

Durfee said all the work carries dividends for the students old enough to vote — and for democracy.

“I guarantee they’ll know the ballot better than almost any other voter on election day,” Durfee said.

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