Challenging Powers to be

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:51

    SPARTA-Sixteen-year-old Nic Luciano still has two years before he's old enough to vote. But that didn't stop him from challenging political candidates with some tough questions at a candidates' luncheon at his school recently. He and about 30 of his classmates at the Sussex County Technical School listened to 10 speakers n candidates in local and Congressional races and representatives from the John Kerry and George Bush campaigns. They had questions and comments for almost every one. "This was good, because I had a lot of questions," said Luciano, a junior from Hopatcong, who says he's interested in national politics. "It's hard to keep track of all the races and issues and when (the candidates) all come to this, it helps us decide." Despite their youth, the students showed they knew the issues. Several students said they watched the presidential debates on TV before meeting the candidates. "We asked them to come prepared with questions," said Suzanne Sarner, director of Sussex Tech's Student Center, which is part of the School Based Youth Services Program, which hosted the luncheon. The students, who were invited by their association with Student Government, National Honor Society and other school clubs, were asked to "come and have some respect for the whole system," Sarner said. Dick Kamin, who spoke for the Bush-Cheney campaign, asked for a show of hands for who watched the third presidential debate the night before. Almost every student's hand went up. Then he asked how many students were old enough to vote, and only a handful of students raised their hands. "You can still be involved in the process," Kamin told them. Students had so many questions for Kamin, time ran out. One student said if John Kerry is in favor of more controls and President Bush is for harsher punishments for those who break gun laws, "how does that protect the 3- or 4-year-old who finds his parent's gun?" Another student asked, "How can Bush promote Christian values when America wasn't founded on Christian principals?" Kamin answered that the president "understands the separation of church and state." He said gun control should be practiced in all households and the number of accidents in which a young child finds a gun is "insignificant." The national issues addressed were similar to those at the debates: the war in Iraq, the war on terror, health care, jobs, the environment and education. Issues addressed by candidates for local offices were closer to home. Carol Ann Kristensen, candidate for Frankford Mayor, said proposed development at Ross' Corner is the "hot topic" surrounding her election. She encouraged the students to get involved in their local government now. "One evening, go to one of your township committee meetings," she told them. Hilda Weightman, candidate for Hardyston Township Committeeman, said she is in the race "to make a difference" on issues such as education, senior citizens, job, and youth services to fight drug abuse. Paul Sutphen, candidate for Frankford Township Committeeman, said party affiliation is not as important on the local level as the issues and the candidate's leadership abilities. He encouraged the students to consider running for local office. "There's a history of young people like yourselves getting elected," Sutphen said. Sussex County Sheriff Robert Untig, who is running unopposed for re-election, told the students about the workings of the sheriff's department. "If you walk out of here knowing something you didn't know when you came in, that's good," he said. Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11) and his Democratic challenger Jim Buell both spoke at the luncheon. Both the Republican and Democrat candidates for the 5th Congressional District n Anne Wolfe and incumbent Scott Garrett (R-5) n sent campaign representatives in their place. Rick Roman spoke on behalf of the Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign.