UK students got to look candidates ‘in the eye’, ask tough questions

Nonpartisan Mayoral candidate Ronnie Baston speaks during the Mayoral Forum at Memorial Hall on Oct. 26, 2018. Baston will be running in the general election. Photo by Sydney Carter | Staff

Natalie Parks

In preparation for the upcoming Nov. 6 elections, students in Journalism 101 hosted a mayoral forum and civic engagement fair Friday morning to provide UK students with a chance to come face to face with local candidates

“The goal of the event was to bring awareness to UK students about local politics and issues that directly affect students” said Olivia Antigua, a sophomore in the journalism 101 class and the coordinator of the civic engagement fair.

The civic engagement fair occupied the first half of the morning; UK students and candidates in local elections came together to mingle and discuss issues. It was an opportunity for voters to get to know candidates and understand their positions.

“I am an educator and I believe in educating yourself on who works best and who best represents you” said Liz Sheehan, Ph.D. Sheehan is a UK faculty member and also a candidate in the 5th district council race. “I don’t think people understand quite how much (local elections) impacts their everyday lives.”

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a non-partisan voter education group, was present to share the importance of local elections. The group provides Voters’ Guides for Fayette County, give rides to polls on election day and on their website viewers can see information about candidates’ background, positions and endorsements.

Though voter education is essential among all age groups, some of the candidates present said it’s especially relevant to the younger demographic of students, since as first time voters they are often just beginning their civic participation.

“We, as the folks who you look up to and depend on to show you the way, are the people to give you direction and help you understand the process”  said Chrysanthia Carr-Seals, candidate in the Fayette County Commissioner race. Carr-Seals has a background in voter registration in high schools and was among the many candidates who emphasized the participation of young voters.

“Figure out your beliefs and get involved” encouraged state auditor Mike Harmon during his speech introducing the mayoral forum.

Harmon spoke on the misconception that money controls everything in politics, that voting is an opportunity to control your destiny and on how candidates should be available to the public.

“When you have an opportunity to actually meet the candidate, look them in the eye, and actually sense whether they are sincere or not sincere when they’re answering the question, that helps everybody” said Harmon of the event.

Renee Jackson Shepard, the challenger in the race for 3rd district council, echoed that sentiment.  

“It’s important to meet all your constituents, especially up and coming people who will be out doing things for our country,” Shepard said. “As a candidate, I feel like it’s my obligation to let people know where I stand on issues.”

Getting young people involved in local politics was a key theme between the candidates.

The incumbent candidate for 3rd district council, Jake Gibbs, said he was particularly interested in hearing the mayoral candidates discuss the relationship of UK to the city of Lexington, since the UK campus is within the 3rd district.

“I love to see students involved in political action and learning more about the process,” Gibbs said. 

Students also took advantage of the chance to become more knowledgeable about local politics. Lauren Lamas, a senior who also attended the mayoral forum in the spring of last year, said that if she wants “to try to live here in the long run, I think it’s important to know who’s in office and what the issues are in the area.”

Freshmen Haley Blackburn thought the mayoral forum was helpful in bringing the election issues to students. “

Since I’m always on campus, it’s often hard to stay up to date on the issues affecting the community, she said.”

Community issues were the focus of the mayoral forum, which occupied the second half of the morning. Candidates Ronnie Bastin and Linda Gorton answered questions from moderator Olivia Antigua. The discussion focused on Bastin and Gorton’s visions for the future of Lexington.

Earlier in the semester, Journalism 101 students had the Sts. Peter & Paul’s eighth grade class draw pictures of what they envisioned for Lexington.  Bastin and Gorton responded to drawings with their own images. Other questions revolved around infrastructure, sex trafficking, small business regulations, civic engagement, the opioid crisis and the relationship between the city and UK.

On the opioid crisis, Gorton pointed to mental health issues as a key cause and suggested a multi-disciplinary group be formed to decide on strategies for dealing with opioid addiction. Bastin cited a lack of treatment beds as an issue and proposed attracting private treatment facilities to Lexington or working on public regional facilities with federal funds.

Even as they differed on some subjects, Bastin and Gorton had similar viewpoints on things like the importance of public art and space, the need for suitable housing and the integration of technology as a solution for several issues. Both mayoral candidates expressed the importance of UK students, in elections and in Lexington at large.

“The UK students are our future in Lexington so it’s very important for me to hear the questions that they had and to answer them” Gorton said.

“The next mayor is going to deliver a city that hopefully the folks that were here are going to inherit and want to be a part of and build on,” Bastin said of young people.

And it seems students are opening up to the idea of becoming involved in these local elections. Antigua expressed her satisfaction with that and the event’s turnout. 

“I noticed that afterwards many of the students talked to candidates with more questions,” Antigua said, “proving that this generation truly does care about what is going on with our government and will be turning out to vote on election day.”