Aaron Mayes/Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2000 | 2 a.m.
The presidential election process this year was contaminated, gays should be allowed to marry in Nevada and abortion is just too divisive an issue.
That’s what some of Southern Nevada’s best and brightest teens had to say Tuesday at the 45th annual Las Vegas Sun Youth Forum at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The presidency, same-sex marriages, abortion and the legalization of marijuana were among the subjects discussed in the America forum, one of seven forums and 42 discussion panels in which more than 880 area high school students participated.
The other forums were Law and Crime, Home in Nevada, World, School Days, Teen Topics and Potpourri. Forum moderators included Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Sen.-elect John Ensign, R-Nev.; outgoing Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev.; Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman; Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt; and Sun Editor and President Brian Greenspun.
Who would be the next leader of our country — and more importantly how he will capture the White House following such a clouded election — was heavy on the minds of tomorrow’s community leaders.
“Whoever is elected, their term is contaminated by what happened,” Elizabeth Paris of Palo Verde High School said of the slim mandate either Vice President Al Gore or Texas Gov. George W. Bush will have as president.
The group’s moderator, Bob Fisher, president of the Nevada Broadcasters Association, chuckled at her choice of the word “contaminated,” noting he hadn’t heard that one used by the news media.
“Rarely are you alive during something so historic,” Fisher told the panel. “You are alive for one of the most interesting elections in U.S. history. It is not the first electoral crisis, but it may be the first where the courts will decide the next president.”
Laura Ashley of Silverado High School said even if “the voting system is contaminated” it can be changed before the next election. “It’s only four years. We can live with it.”
“It’s a big mess,” Christina Lockwood of Valley High School, said. “The world is laughing at us.”
The students in Fisher’s group voted 18-8 in favor of ending the Electoral College and let the presidential race winner be determined by the popular vote.
Meanwhile, state Gaming Control Board member Bobby Siller was moderator of a group in which Christine Guederian of Cimarron-Memorial High School suggested: “We should lower the voting age to 16 — we have opinions too.”
The statement conjured memories of 1969, when Janie Greenspun — daughter of late Sun Publisher and Sun Youth Forum founder Hank Greenspun — at the age of 18 sued the federal government to give 18-year-olds — many of whom were fighting and dying in the Vietnam War — the right to vote.
Her two-year battle went to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — one step below the U.S. Supreme Court — where it was ruled a moot point because Janie would turn 21 before the 1972 election and thus could vote. Shortly afterward the national voting age was lowered to 18.
Whitney Howell of Centennial High noted that many good people don’t run because of the unnecessary scrutiny that goes with a campaign.
“What person would subject themselves to the minute details?” she said. “We lose a lot of good candidates that way.”
One prevalent opinion was that many teens did not want to see more government control of their lives, such as on the issue of gay marriages.
Question 2, a ballot initiative that would add a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, came under fire. The initiative, which overwhelmingly passed Nov. 7, must pass again in 2002 to become part of the state Constitution.
“It fosters discrimination,” Danielle Williams of Green Valley High School said.
If religious groups, which hold man-woman marriages to be sacred, were left to decide things, she said, the marriages of heterosexual atheists would not be recognized because atheists have no religious beliefs.
Noted Molly Malloy of Bonanza High School: “I find it so strange to see Question 2 on a Nevada ballot, given that a man can know a woman for five minutes and get married in a drive-up window at a Las Vegas wedding chapel, but a same-sex couple can know each other 20 years and not be allowed to marry in this state. That’s just hypocritical.”
A show of hands in that group before moderator Christian Kolberg, director of communications for the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, showed about a 5-to-1 margin in support of gay marriages.
Ironically, the forces that supported the overwhelming passage of Question 2 expressed concerns over how parents would explain to children the confusing subject of same-sex marriages.
The children at the Sun Youth Forum, both for and against the issue, did not appear confused at all, but well-informed. Many of them will be eligible to vote in 2002.
Some of the more passionate discussions were on the subject of abortion. In Siller’s group, following a heated debate — some teens yelled out “fetus” when others said “baby” when to refer to the unborn — the abortion rights and anti-abortion students split into two groups to select representatives to argue concise points.
Fourteen students headed to the anti-abortion group and 14 students to the abortion rights group — yet another example of how the young people mirrored adult society.
On the recently passed medical marijuana measure, students took it one step further and discussed legalizing the drug for all purposes. In Kolberg’s group, the students voted 13-10 against legalizing the drug for nonmedical use.
In Fisher’s group, one teen spoke volumes in one sentence: “I used to smoke marijuana, but I don’t anymore (to set an example) for my 6-month-old (child).”