Eight local candidates for the Cowley County Commission and Kansas Legislature will attend a Kids Voting Kansas forum Oct. 19.

OptimistThe forum, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the Arkansas City Middle School auditorium, 400 E. Kansas Ave. It is sponsored by USD 470 and the Optimists of Arkansas City.

The event, which is being held for the benefit of Arkansas City Public School District students as part of the Kids Voting Kansas program, is expected to last around two hours.

Refreshments will be served immediately following the event and audience members also will have a chance at that time to meet individually with the candidates.

The following eight candidates have committed to attending and participating in this event:

  • Cowley County Commission District 3 (northeast Arkansas City) — incumbent Alan Groom (Republican) and challenger James M. Karasek (Democratic), both of Winfield;
  • Cowley County Commission District 2 (remainder of Arkansas City) — incumbent Gary Wilson (Democratic) and challenger Bob Voegele (Republican), both of Arkansas City;
  • State representative for Kansas House District 80 (southwestern Cowley County) — Anita Judd-Jenkins (Republican), of Arkansas City, and Michelle Schiltz (Democratic), of Caldwell;
  • State senator for Kansas Senate District 32 (western Cowley County) — Larry W. Alley (Republican), of Winfield, and Don Shimkus (Democratic), of Oxford.

Local candidates for county attorney, clerk, register of deeds, sheriff and treasurer are unopposed.

Students in the Arkansas City High School KAY Club and on the ACHS debate team will time answers and gather audience questions for the candidates, who will have one to two minutes to answer.

The initial list of questions is being developed by the debate class at ACHS. Additional questions will be gathered from the audience and screened before being presented to forum moderator Dr. Nick Rogers.

usd-470-logoThe Optimists of Arkansas City, whose mission is to bring out the best in kids, are the main financial sponsor of the Kids Voting Kansas program, held every four years in Ark City’s public and private schools.

This program exposes students to the voting experience and its importance at all levels of government, according to club treasurer Jay Warren.

“This forum has a twofold objective,” Warren said. “The first is to get kids involved and understanding government early, and the second is to inform the people of Cowley County of local issues and hear what the candidates who will represent them have to say.”

“Informed decision-making is the basic goal of this event,” said club secretary Andrew Lawson.

“Ark City students have correctly predicted (on their ballots) the outcomes and winners of the presidential election for the past 20 years,” Warren said.

In addition to this forum, Optimists and student volunteers also will assist with the conducting of mock student voting on Election Day, which is Nov. 8. A counting party, with pizza, will be held that night.

Students from ACHS, ACMS, Ark City Christian Academy, Sacred Heart Catholic School and the six public elementary schools will participate in voting for president, U.S. Congress, and local and state races.

Other Optimist youth citizenship programs in the past have included mock trials, voter registration drives, and various other civic and government-enhancing activities.

“The Kids Voting program brings multiple benefits: Kids learn the importance of voicing their choice in our election process, and they experience casting a vote — and will understand more about the popular vote, the electoral college and the Constitutional foundations,” said USD 470 Superintendent Ron Ballard.

“We’re indebted to the Optimist Club for sponsoring this effort. It’s been a great learning tool in past years and promises the same for 2016.”

Since June, recent Kids Voting Kansas planning meetings have included USD 470 administrators and educators from all levels of the district, as well as Optimist Club representatives.

This year, all public school students are expected to vote online for the first time. In 2012, only ACHS and ACMS students voted online, while elementary school students voted on paper ballots.

“This better prepares them for using the electronic voting machines that are now the standard in our democratic process,” Lawson said. “Our main goal is for the kids to understand what voting is like in the ‘real world,’ so we commend the school district for making this jump into the 21st-century voting method.”

“We hope not only that the students will learn the importance of voting and democracy, but that they also will take what they have learned home to their parents and encourage them to vote,” said Bob Frazee, newly installed president of the Optimists of Arkansas City.

About the Optimists of Arkansas City

The Optimist Club of Arkansas City works for the benefit of local youths and its members believe in the giving of themselves in service to others to help their community.

The club raises and donates approximately $20,000 per year to the Arkansas City community.

The Arkansas City chapter of the Optimist Club was founded in 1981 by charter members Tommy Aguinaga, Marshall Brentlinger, Jim Brown and John Postelwait. All four still are members today.

Other members include Steve Aguinaga, Bobie Baker, Dan Biddle, Sydney Bland, Gene Burr, Felipe Escalante, Terry Flauding, president Bob Frazee, Chad Giles, Allen Goff, Gary Hale, Garrett Heilig, secretary Andrew Lawson, John Oller, Clayton Soule, treasurer Jay Warren and Jerry Young.

The club was the February 2016 recipient of the Community Cornerstone Award. It is known best for its pork burger concession stand at the annual Arkalalah Festival and the Last Run Car Show.

Funds raised by the Optimists of Arkansas City, including all proceeds from the sale of pork burgers, go to support the youth of Arkansas City and other valuable programs in the community, including:

  • Little League football, baseball, softball, basketball and soccer;
  • Kids Voting Kansas;
  • The GE Volunteers Christmas Fund;
  • The Arkansas City High School booster club.

The Optimists of Arkansas City cosponsor the annual Sgt. Jerry Mills Jr. Fishing Derby and Bicycle Safety Rodeo events, and also assist Boy Scouts Troop 328 and Cowley College’s ACES program with their annual fundraiser meals. The club has sponsored three outdoor movies at Wilson Park since 2015.

The Optimists of Arkansas City financed approximately $3,000 of the startup equipment costs for the Arkansas City Police Department’s SafeAssured ID system for children, and annually honor an area Law Enforcement Officer of the Year for his or her exemplary service.

The Optimists have donated hot dogs, food items, money, and manpower to the ACHS band, After Prom, ACPD’s summer DARE Camp, City of Arkansas City employee appreciation events, the DARE Lock-in, the Fraternal Order of Police fireworks show, the annual National Night Out kickoff party, the Northwest Community Center and many other community projects throughout the year.

The local club’s meetings generally are held at 5:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at Daisy Mae’s Café, 511 W. Madison Ave. Its next meeting will be Nov. 1, however.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/arkcityoptimists or www.ksoptimist.org.

To become a member of the Optimists of Arkansas City and make a difference for our youth, call (620) 741-1082 or (620) 441-3757, or visit www.optimist.org/onlineforms/Inquiry.cfm?id=7&club=37001.

About Optimist International

Optimist International is a worldwide volunteer organization made up of more than 2,500 local clubs whose members work each day to make the future brighter by bringing out the best in children, their communities and themselves. The purposes of Optimist International are:

  • To develop optimism as a philosophy of life, utilizing the tenets of the Optimist Creed;
  • To promote an active interest in good government and civic affairs;
  • To inspire respect for the law;
  • To promote patriotism, and work for international accord and friendship among all people;
  • To aid and encourage the development of youth, in the belief that the giving of one’s self in service to others will advance the well-being of humankind, community life and the world.

By meeting the needs of young people in communities worldwide, Optimist clubs have been “Bringing Out the Best in Kids” since 1919, according the Optimist International website.

Optimist Clubs conduct positive service projects aimed at providing a helping hand to youths.

There are 87,000 individual members who belong to 2,900 autonomous clubs across the world.

Optimists conduct 65,000 service projects each year, serving 6 million young people, and they spend $78 million on their communities annually.

Optimist International is recognized worldwide as the premier volunteer organization that values all children and helps them to develop to their full potential. For more information, visit www.optimist.org.

About Kids Voting Kansas

Kids Voting Kansas, Inc. is a grassroots, nonpartisan, 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that encourages student involvement through community and school partnerships in order to fulfill its mission.

Kids Voting was created as a solution to citizen apathy and poor voter turnout. Its goal is to spark a renewed interest in American democracy.

Kids Voting Kansas has received enthusiastic responses from educators, volunteers, parents and, most important, students. It provides curricula for all grade levels to accompany the voting program.

Students are not only exposed to the basics of an election, but they also experience information gathering, decision-making and the empowerment of voting. Students are active participants in this learning process by discussing and debating the election in school and at home.

For more information, visit www.kidsvotingusa.org/affiliates-near-you/17-kansas/46-kids-voting-kansas or www.facebook.com/KidsVotingKS, or contact Kids Voting Kansas coordinator Emily Bradbury at (785) 271-5304 or ebradbury@kspress.com.

About Kids Voting USA

Kids Voting USA is a nonpartisan, grassroots-driven voter education program committed to creating lifelong voting habits in children, increasing family communication about citizenship and encouraging greater adult voter turnout.

Kids Voting USA relies on its more than 25-year history (since 1988), continual feedback from educators and experience of its affiliates when developing the model to implement programming.

The programming model operates with five key components:

  1. Strong curricula for grade levels K-12 that offer easily implemented, interactive lessons at no cost to schools.
  2. A choice of mock election processes to meet the individualized needs of the schools — paper ballots, electronic voting software or a combination of both.
  3. Activities to involve families in teaching their children their own voting values.
  4. Educator support through local affiliates to provide assistance with ballot creation, volunteers for activities, and resources needed for teaching civic lessons and creating voting habits.
  5. Continuing research on the program’s impact and effectiveness.

Kids Voting USA believes it is of primary importance to utilize local affiliates for educator support.

The local affiliates offer the schools the assistance needed so already overburdened educators are not handed yet another responsibility, with no support offered.

As a national nonpartisan, grassroots-driven voter education program, Kids Voting USA relies on local affiliates to keep the program meeting local needs and honoring America’s founding philosophy of “We the People” as key to our democracy and this program.

For more information, visit www.kidsvotingusa.org.

This information was provided by Optimists of Arkansas City Secretary Andrew Lawson.