Students prepping for state House debate

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

CORNERSVILLE -- Four 16-year-old high school students here are scheduled Thursday to quiz three men running to represent Marshall and Giles counties in the state House and most of those students have some connection to the candidates.

One's been deer hunting with Ted Roop of Lynnville, the independent candidate who's been an alderman in Spring Hill. Another student is best friends with the daughter of former Marshall County Commissioner Billy Spivey, the Lewisburg Republican challenging Rep. Eddie Bass (D-Prospect) who's politically allied with the Giles County executive, the great aunt of another student asking questions during the debate.

"I don't think she'd ask me to ask something," Spivey's daughter's friend said Friday when the Marshall County Tribune interviewed the four students in their school cafeteria.

All of the students are juniors in a U.S. history class taught by Brent Adcox who introduced them as willing to ask questions on stage during the newspaper's debate scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Thursday in their school's auditorium.

Doors open at 5 p.m. There's no admission charge.

The students are:

* Jacob Gentry, Cornersville, son of Matt and Ruth Ann Gentry;

* Britteny Crowell, Cornersville, daughter of Troy and Laurie Crowell;

* Drew Zudel, Petersburg, son of Amy and Mark Herman; and,

* Martha McMasters, Pulaski, daughter of Joy and Brad McMasters.

"I didn't know about this until about 15 minutes ago," McMasters said Friday morning about her role in Thursday night's debate.

It's an indication about how rushed organization of the second state legislative debate has been since one of the three House candidates could not attend their part of the House and Senate event at Marshall County High School on Oct. 18. The absence prompted staff and management of the Tribune to find another time for the House debate.

The House district consists of Marshall and Giles counties, so the location of the rescheduled debate was changed to Cornersville because it's approximately halfway between Lewisburg and Pulaski, the county seats.

Marshall- and Giles -- County residents may enter CHS through its cafeteria doors that face South Main Street in Cornersville, generally across the street from the fire hall in town.

Broad concept issues such as jobs, education, religion and immigration were debated by state Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Columbia Councilwoman Debbie Matthews, the Democratic nominee, in MCHS on Oct. 18 and those topics are anticipated again.

However, the history teacher at CHS has indicated questions to be asked by his students will include topics that are more to the basic political, financial and administrative nature of local government.

Employment, however, remains a major issue for the debate and residents across the state, even though its unemployment rate dropped below the national average during September.

A round-table discussion with the four students revealed their career goals, class experience relevant to the debate, and their personal spirited enthusiasm for this new experience for them.

Zudel wasn't selected for the debate because Roop is his mother's uncle.

"Mr. Adcox said he selected me because he and I are always debating in class over political views" about the President, the student said. "I didn't really care who was President," Zudel said. Adcox "has opened my eyes to what Obama has done so far."

At least one aspect of Zudel's participation was laid to rest while talking about his family relations.

"I have to ask questions that will not show favoritism," the student said.

Still, he thinks Roop is a straight shooter, literally.

"He might not be able to fix the economy," Zudel said of Roop who works in an auto body shop, "but he can hit that deer over there."

Roop is Zudel's great uncle. The candidate and the student have been deer hunting together. Zudel's mother's father is Roop's brother.

Zudel wants to be a forensic pathologist when he settles into a career.

"Dead bodies don't bother me," he said.

Brittney Crowell will be 17 years old on Saturday and she offered full disclosure with regard to one of the candidates.

"He is my best friend's daddy," Crowell said.

The Republican candidate's daughter, Laiken Spivey, and Crowell are in the same English and physics classes.

In the U.S. history class, Crowell has been mostly interested in studying the Great Depression "because it's related to what our country is going through now," she said.

As for her career goals, Crowell wants "to do something in the health field like physical therapy," she said.

"I plan to go into criminal justice and ... be a lawyer," said Gentry, acknowledging that he could start as a police officer, "and work my way through school."

Gentry knows Roop "through Drew," he said.

Adcox's history class "has been one of my favorite classes in school," Gentry said. "It's opened my eyes as far as how big a part it plays in my life, so why not get involved now instead of waiting?"

Asked about how much she knows Bass, McMasters said, "I don't know him prsonally, but my great aunt, Janet Vanzant, is the county executive of Giles County."

Bass attended one of Vanzant's campaign rallys, "and she's never had anything bad to say about him," McMasters said. "He seems nice. I've met him once or twice, but I don't know him very well."

She plans to ask about jobs and the economy.

Thursday night's debate will be conducted in much the same fashion as the state Senate debate in the MCHS Lecture Hall. Brief opening and closing statements will be allowed. The time for answers will be limited, but candidates won't be abruptly cut off in mid-sentence.

There will also be time for expanded conversation on various subjects. During the Senate debate, there was a robust discussion on Matthew's contention that Ketron has abused his legislative expense account, and his accusation that her campaign broke laws when soliciting donations by e-mail.

Published campaign advertisements for Bass and Spivey would appear to be a legitimate topic for those candidates while they're on stage together in Cornersville.

Because the press for the Friday edition of the Marshall County Tribune will have run before the debate starts, a story about the exchange is to be posted on the newspaper's web site: before election day, Tuesday, Nov. 2. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The Marshall County Shopper, a free circulation weekly publication issued on Monday will also carry a report on the debate. The Shopper is almost exclusively an advertising medium, but it has presented listings of crime reports. Next week, it is to have news from the debate.