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The Covington News hosts Next Generation Forum

Candidates from all open Newton County offices in the 2016 election season sat in the horseshoe of the Historic Courthouse Sunday and faced a packed house and something that was a bit new — students from around Newton County.

Twenty Newton County School System high school students asked questions of candidates for Newton County chair, districts 1, 3 and 5 of the county commission, tax commissioner, coroner and probate judge, while students from Georgia State University-Newton Perimeter Campus moderated the forum hosted by The Covington News.

The format differed from the other opportunities that have been made available this election season for citizens to meet and hear from candidates. Every question — there were two for each office — was developed from students.

The questions ranged from general, such as “why are you more qualified than your opponent” to far reaching, such as “how would you dissolve the divides such as east and west, new and old residents in the county.” Those questions not only gave citizens insight to the candidates, but also allowed the candidates themselves to think of their responses in a way that addressed the range of generations that were in the audience.

“It was interesting to finally get insight from the candidates themselves, and not just hearing my dad talk about it,” said Alcovy High School Senior Sam Bonnett, who was one of the students asking questions Sunday. “It was cool to finally get a glimpse of what the people actually say themselves.”

Students weren’t the only group to hear from the candidates for the first time. Some of the parents in attendance to see their children in a political setting also attended their first forum.

“It was the first forum that I attended, and I could hear up close and personal what they had to say,” said Saudia Muhammad, a 15-year Newton County resident. “I can go into this election season with a better idea of who I am going to vote for.”

Early voting for the primary election begins Monday, May 2. That will be crucial for many of the candidates who attended Sunday’s forum.

Probate Judge and all three Newton County board of commissioner seats will be decided in the primary, either on Election Day May 24 or in a runoff in July. The primary election will also be critical for the Newton County Chair, with three Democrat candidates and two Republican candidates seeking to move on to the General Election on Nov. 8.

With that many candidates, each and every vote is important, and the candidates expressed that thought when seeing new faces at the Newton County Historic Courthouse.

“It was great having the young kids here and having them moderate and ask us questions,” said tax commissioner candidate Casey Duren. “It was good to see them involved. That’s the best thing right now, to see them involved; people don’t get involved in politics at that age.”

Duren, along with Barbara Dingler are both running for tax commissioner and were both in attendance, as well as Coroner Tommy Davis; probate judge candidates, Melanie Bell and Shannon Sneed; district 1 candidate, Stan Edwards; district 3 candidates, Tim Brown and Nancy Schulz; district 5 candidates, Ronnie Cowan and Jared Rutberg and chair candidates, Phil Johnson, Levie Maddox, Michael Syphoe and Aaron Varner.

“I thought it was very informative,” Dingler said. “I really do appreciate the students of Newton County and the college for coming out and being moderators; that was a first for me.”