Party time

Students at Columbus North High School are tackling a topic that sometimes is controversial: politics.

Two clubs are spreading the word about the main political parties – Republican and Democrat – prior to the Nov. 8 election.

The Young Democrats Club has been active at the school for several years, said Pragya Chandra, a senior and the club’s student leader. Chandra got involved because she was intrigued by politics and wanted to increase the level of involvement and interest younger people have in politics.

“I think in order to have a working understanding of politics, you need to be involved on some level,” Chandra said.

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The club has been hard at work, canvassing for Democratic candidates such as John Gregg (governor) and Glenda Ritz (state superintendent of public instruction), said Dale Nowlin, the faculty sponsor of the club who also was a candidate in the Democratic primary for District 59 state representative.

Students have participated in campaigns by volunteering for phone banks, knocking on doors on behalf of Gregg and Ritz a couple times each week and inviting speakers to their bi-weekly meetings. So far, the club has met with:

  • Vincent Halloran, regional field director of the John Gregg campaign
  • Tracy Heaton de Martinez, a member of the Indiana League of Women Voters
  • Elaine Wagner, a member of the Columbus City Council

While the students have had mostly positive feedback, there have been a few people they talked to who have been surprised by their age or who have argued, said Mackenzie Geckler, a senior and club member.

“I just answer their questions politely because I am old enough to vote and everyone has their own values and beliefs,” Geckler said.

Members of the Teen Republican Club said they felt that sharper side of politics before the club’s conception this school year.

The club was started by senior Elizabeth Elliott and some of her other friends as a safe place for students to share conservative beliefs, and for those who simply want to learn more about conservative viewpoints, Elliott said.

Chad Russell, the club’s faculty sponsor, said the students approached him about the idea for the club, citing a feeling of being pressured into silence.

“They reported often being shouted down, singled out or bullied when they expressed their political views,” Russell said. “I feel it’s important for students to have an opportunity to express their political views in a safe and respectful environment, no matter what ideology, party or candidate they support.

With that in mind, students set about spreading their political message, and, similar to the Young Democrats Club, they have been campaigning and making phone calls for Republican candidates, such as Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb in his bid for governor. They have also met with Bartholomew County Council members Jorge Morales and Evelyn Pence, and county council at-large candidate Matt Miller, for example, to learn about local politics, Elliott said.

While the Teen Republicans and Young Democrats clubs are built on different core beliefs, they both hold to the idea of solving problems and sharing beliefs in as positive and polite a way as possible.

“This club, and our guest speakers, are never about putting down another ideology or complaining about what the other side is doing,” Elliott said. “It’s all about finding solutions and trying to fix problems facing our country and our communities.”

Those students in both clubs who are eligible to vote said they are planning to exercise that right in this year’s presidential election.

Officials at Columbus East and Columbus Signature Academy – New Tech high schools said the schools do not currently have political clubs.