Oak Creek students moderate 'presidential' debate with a calmer tone

Nov. 6, 2012

Oak Creek - Local students and faculty provided the public with a more civilized version of the last three presidential debates, using stand-in party leaders to represent opposing viewpoints.

Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson and Republican state Rep. Jeff Stone were invited to the debate, which took place at the Oak Creek Community Center on Oct. 31. The event was moderated by two high school representatives, one each from the young Republican and Democrat clubs.

The clubs were previously passing rivals who have met only occasionally to host small events. This event, according to members from both groups, saw the two working closer than ever before.

Friendly opposition

"I didn't know anything about the young Democrats (before) so it was nice to meet with some," said Marissa Maldonado, moderator for the young Republicans and high school senior. "There were others where we bumped heads, but at the end of the day we made it work."

The moderators opened by stating that the debate wasn't meant as a divisive event, but one to unify students in an interest in politics.

Dave Liccione, an Oak Creek teacher who helped organize the event, said that the point was to get students involved in politics even if they couldn't vote.

Larson and Stone spent most of the two-hour debate discussing their candidate's stances on national issues, injecting self-humor or school lunch jokes to spice things up.

All of the questions were written by students and focused on the main issues of the debate: foreign policy, education, health care and women's rights.

"When you have me and Representative Stone trying to represent different candidates, we're kind of arms length away from the policies and we're not going to get too vehement about their stances," Larson said.

The last three questions focused on bipartisanship and how each candidate was similar to their opponents. The debater's answers on these questions received the lion's share of audience applause.

"I think it was good, and it was because we're both debating for a position that we're not on the ballot for," Stone said. "In some ways I think it made for more of a focus on the issues and for me it was kind of fun."

The set up

Senator Larson had approached Liccione to speak with his classes. Liccione, seeing an opportunity to bring a live debate to his students, invited him to instead argue President Obama's stance in the debate. Getting a Republican required a little more effort.

The students were having problems figuring out which Republican they wanted to go with when somebody suggested that they get Stone. The Fadness sisters, who have been members of the Young Republicans club, spoke with their brother, who was Eric Hovde's campaign manager. Their brother approached Stone, who happily agreed to debate.

Liccione and the organizers were originally going to hold the debate in the high school, but traffic reasons and other issues prompted them to to move the event across the street to the community center, which waived any fees for its space.

The event was sponsored by the Oak Creek High School Spirit Club and the Kiwanis Club and cost $244, all of which was donated by the two organizations.

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