More than 300 high school students around the Des Moines metro converged on North High School on Tuesday to engage in the political process. For many attendees, it was their first taste of politics, but undoubtedly will not be the last for most of them in our First-in-the-Nation caucus state.
The Polk County Republicans partnered with their Democrat colleagues to organize a mock caucus for the students. They also aimed to try to sway some of the future voters to join their respective party.
The groups were split in half and each attendee was allowed to get a taste of what the caucus process is like for both parties. Delegates were elected and platform issues were discussed. However, for the Republicans, the event seemed more similar to a county convention than a caucus.
The Polk County GOP brought seven speakers to the event. Cleon Babcock explained parliamentary procedure and using Robert’s Rules. Secretary of State Matt Schultz tried to get the youthful audience excited about the political process and encouraged them to register to vote. Voter registration forms were provided to each attendee.
Following Secretary Schultz’s speech, Republicans shared their views on five major, topical issues: education, civil rights, healthcare, jobs and the economy, and gun control. House Rep. Kevin Koester (R-Ankeny) handled the education topic.
Pastor Clair Rudison, a longtime former Democrat, delivered the Republicans’ viewpoint on civil rights. He provided attendees with a look at the lengthy Republican history in advocating for civil rights. Rudison also shared his views on marriage and abortion and said the Polk County Democrats ostracized him because his views differed from theirs.
“I was a registered democrat for 38 years of my life. I’m 53 now. For making those comments, the Polk County Democrat Party threw me under the bus and said I was an undercover Republican,” Rudison told the audience. “They stated that I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Rudison’s discussion was the most interesting of the evening before the student delegates took the stage. The Des Moines pastor had a lengthy, but civil, dialogue with a student who is a supporter of gay marriage.
“From my perspective and my view, I’m not saying that there should be no union between them. I can understand an agreement of civil union, but from a Biblical standpoint, God didn’t make Adam and Steve. He made Adam and Eve,” Rudison said.
Many students applauded Rudison’s comment. The divide seemed to split almost evenly among those who support gay marriage and those who do not.
After both groups held mock caucuses with both parties, the elected student delegates took the stage to participate in a forum conducted by WHO-TV’s Dave Price. The delegates offered differing views on the issues and seemed split fairly evenly in terms of which party they supported.
Price’s question regarding what the students believed was most important issue the parties should be focused on drew a well-informed response from one student delegate.
“I think a big issue that is facing all Americans today is the debt that our government has,” said Brooke Beatty, a Valley High student. “The fact of the matter is the people in this room are future taxpayers in this country and are the people that are going to be paying off the debt that this government has accumulated. I don’t think that’s headlined enough in today’s media.”
Polk County GOP Co-Chair Sherill Whisenand told the students how fortunate they are to live in the state that becomes the center of the political universe every four years. She ended the proceedings by encouraging all the attendees to engage fully in the political process in Iowa and praised them for taking their time to participate in the mock caucus.
“I was very, very impressed this evening with each and every one of you for your intellect, for your respect, for paying attention, and most importantly, I think all of you were willing, ready and here tonight to interact,” Whisenand told the students. “You made this the experience that it was and we thank you very much. And hopefully, and you’ll have the opportunity to come to the Republican Party of Polk County caucuses on January 21.”
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