Until they can vote, teenagers don’t have much say in the election process.
That changed for a night as government students from five Las Cruces high schools questioned candidates running for Las Cruces mayor.
Oñate High School officials estimated nearly 300 people attended the forum, which featured nine out of 10 candidates in the race. The nonpartisan event marked efforts by Las Cruces Public Schools and civic groups to educate voters ahead of November’s municipal elections.
“Now, considering the amount of sunshine that New Mexico gets annually, are there any plans from any of you to integrate solar energy or renewable energy into Las Cruces?” 15-year-old Ella Hutchinson asked in concern to climate change.
The Centennial High School junior said she’s interested in pursuing a career in politics and became a moderator to learn more about those running to represent her community.
“I thought that it would be important to ask the people who are going to be in charge of our city for the next couple of years what they plan to do on making our city more renewable," Hutchinson said. "My second question was about tourism because from watching a lot of New Mexico True videos and they talk about green chile and they talk about competing with Colorado, I wanted to know what our mayoral candidates could do to improve how we are seen by the rest of the country and the world.”
17-year-old senior Osaze Williams represented Las Cruces High School as he asked candidates about their movtivations to run for mayor.
Williams said watching more news along with the Democratic primary debates sparked his interest to be a moderator. He added he gets his news from a variety of sources to gain more perspective from both major political parties.
“I’ve been recently watching the news more and I’ve grown an interest in these certain activities and I wanted to see what a local standpoint before I start viewing more at a national standpoint. And I wanted to kind of get an understanding of how this system works because I plan on going into economics and I think this is a very important thing to know about when going into that degree," Williams said.
While education was a focal issue of the evening, students also touched on city spending, unemployment, transportation and funding for student organizations. To address those concerns, Williams said it’s essential for the mayor and community to work together.
“I think that the most important issues are that we need to come together as one. And I’ve heard that from a majority of our mayoral candidates and I think that that is the most important thing moving forward," Williams said. "Also, I think we need to make sure our education, educational system is our main priority. Knowing that we’re pretty low on the spectrum, we should work on improving us as a whole so that way our state and not just our city is improved.”
Oñate Junior Lanie Davis served as the forum’s primary moderator to enforce time limits and ground rules. At 16, Davis can’t vote yet. Still, she said it’s important that students her age get civically active and stay educated about the candidates.
“I felt this process was very educational to see the different beliefs and views because I don’t think as youth we pay attention enough to what’s going on because we’re not old enough to vote. But I believe that should change and I feel like this has changed my perspective on a lot of how I should focus on these votes because I am a future voter," Davis said.
To ensure they made their voices heard, Oñate Social Studies Department Chair David Nuñez said students came up with their own questions. He said the work students did to set up the forum supplements what they learn in class about democracy and the election process.
“It brings relevancy to what they’re learning. So, they get to take some knowledge that they’re getting in the classroom and then they get to apply it to real life situations. So, it’s one thing to read about it in a textbook or do some activity related to what you’re teaching, but they’re living government by taking part in events such as one tonight," Nuñez said.
Hutchinson added the chance to get comfortable talking to candidates helps students to connect with the leaders representing them.
“It’s really important because this is going to be our future, this is going to be our city, this is going to be our nation. We need to be involved and have our voices heard or else they’re just going to be stomped over and people are going to represent us when they don’t really have our true values in mind," Hutchinson said.
And for once, these students controlled an important discussion from which they’re often excluded.
Join KRWG Public Media on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 1 p.m. for a mayoral forum in the KRWG-TV studios at Milton Hall—or catch it when it airs Thursday night at 7 on television.