Kids ask the questions at Oregon's gubernatorial debate
The politicians vying for your vote are about to tackle their toughest audience yet: Oregon's kids.
Crook County High School student Olivia Cooper will join more than a dozen young people, age 12 to 19, who will pose their own questions to three candidates for governor during the Debate for Oregon's Future — sponsored by the Pamplin Media Group, Children First for Oregon, and KOIN 6 News.
"We think it's important to highlight youth and children's issues in this gubernatorial election, and nobody can do that better than the young people in our state who are living with those issues day in and day out," said Tonia Hunt, executive director of Children First for Oregon. "For them to bring their own experience, their own concerns, their own questions to the candidates directly, really honors that they are important constituents to the governor of the state, even if they can't yet vote."
The first gubernatorial debate of the year will feature Democratic incumbent Gov. Kate Brown, Republican challenger Knute Buehler, and Independent Party candidate Patrick Starnes in a historic showdown to be broadcast live from Roosevelt High School in Portland.
"The candidates should brace themselves," says Pamplin Media Group Executive Editor John Schrag. "Their young constituents will not be pulling any punches."
The debate will broadcast live on KOIN TV, KDRV TV, KBNZ and on KPAM radio from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2 and also will be available for online streaming at KOIN.com. Those wishing to attend in person should request a free ticket at: cffo.org.
The 16 debate participants were either self-nominated or recommended by partnering organizations.
Cooper, a 17-year-old CCHS senior, is the Associated Student Body president and traveled to Washington, D.C., this past summer for two leadership conferences.
Hunt believes Cooper will bring a strong voice to the debate.
"She's already shown strong interest in civic engagement and leadership, and she has expressed concerns that are relevant to young people's lives today from her own experience," Hunt said, noting that they also wanted representation from all over the state. "She's definitely distinguished herself as a leader."
Many of the youth — who hail from Portland, Salem, Pendleton, Prineville, Medford, John Day, Colton and Tigard — attended a brainstorming session at the KOIN Center tower on Saturday, Sept. 22. The candidates won't know any of the questions until they hear them on stage, but it's clear that these junior citizens are ready to have their say.
Cooper was unable to attend the training but has received some tips from Schrag through email.
She says she couldn't be more excited to attend the debate in person with her parents, Scott Cooper and Laura Craska Cooper.
"I'll be able to vote in November since my birthday is in late October, and I haven't made up my mind on who to vote for yet," she said. "I really wanted to participate because I think it's important that students have a say and ask important questions about Oregon's future."
She pointed out that one of these candidates is going to be the governor for the next four years and will be responsible for shaping the future.
"Youth need to be involved because they have a perspective that many adults don't. Everyone has an issue that's important to them, but many adults have issues that aren't necessarily important to kids," Cooper said. "This opportunity gives youth a chance to be heard. It gives them a chance to ask questions that normally aren't asked, and it gives whomever is elected governor the chance to think about issues that normally aren't brought up."
KOIN anchor Jeff Gianola and Portland Tribune reporter Shasta Kearns Moore will moderate the event, but the questions will come directly from Oregon youth.
Most of the youths will attend the Debate for Oregon's Future, however, due to schedules and distance, a few will send a video recording of their questions.
Each of the 16 students will only be allowed to ask one question during the hour-long debate.
"The stakes in the governor's race are very high for Oregon's youth," said Sharon Soliday, board chair of Children First for Oregon. "Children don't have a vote – but we will give them a voice in the 2018 election on economic security, health care, safety, education and other issues they face."
Cooper said her concerns for students in Crook County are the graduation rate and lack of opportunities for students to have something to do after school.
She's concerned that so many students drop out of school and believes a lack of after-school activities contributes to the issue.
"This leads to students making bad decisions because they have nothing else to do with their time and leads to a higher drop-out rate," Cooper said. "These two issues are some of my top concerns for students in my school."
Children First for Oregon, a statewide organization based in Portland, was founded in 1991 to improve the lives of Oregon children by galvanizing community support and informing decision-makers about the solutions kids need.
"We believe this might be first in the nation where it has been 100 percent youth led, 100 percent youth questioners, and questions all about youth issues," Hunt said, adding that they hope other states follow suit in the years to come.
"We want young people there face to face with the candidates asking the questions because they know better than we do what issues are important to them," Schrag, of Pamplin Media, said. "We also think it will be a lot more interesting and informative for voters than traditional debates, partly because it will be tougher for the candidates to blow off questions from young people or switch to prepared talking points. Would they really want to be seen on live TV being rude to a 16-year-old? We don't think so."
Debate for Oregon's Future
Date: 7-8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2
Location: Roosevelt High School, Portland
Free tickets: http://www.cffo.org/debate/
Broadcast live: KOIN TV, KOIN.com, KDRV TV, KBNZ and KPAM radio