By BROOKE ROBINSON, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH — Five local political figures convened at a political panel Inter-lakes High School on Thursday to discuss their positions in public office and give students insight into their political careers. The freshmen social studies students were given the opportunity to ask the speakers questions to guide the discussion.
Laconia Mayor Ed Engler, state Sen. Jeanie Forrester, Executive Councilor Joe Kenney and state Reps. Valerie Fraser and Herb Vadney started the talk with brief introductions of themselves and how they got into politics, all citing wanting to change their communities for the better.
Students asked a variety of questions directed at specific politicians. One subject that every panelist discussed was the growing drug crisis in New Hampshire and the Lakes Region.
"In Laconia and the Lakes Region, obviously we're all doing whatever we can to help people who have addiction issues," Engler explained before discussing the local efforts to fight the rampant drug problem. "Laconia was the first city in the state to dedicate a police officer to do nothing but work with people who have addiction issues," he said. "The issue is not to put them in jail or arrest them or whatever, but to work with them, try to get them into treatment centers as opposed to arresting them."
Kenney spoke more about the drug problem at the state level. "The drug problem is the number one issue in the state of New Hampshire," he said. "The Executive Council has approved over $24 million in contracts for prevention and treatment programs for the state. We're all in this drug fight together," Kenney stated, summing up the sentiments of all of the panelists.
Fraser, who had a background in nursing and is also a veterinarian, warned students of the dangers of all drugs, not just illicit ones. "All drugs are toxic. It's not a drug unless it has a toxicity level," she explained. "That's part of prevention, understanding that everything's toxic. Keep that in mind when you're looking at anything, whether it's over-the-counter, illicit drugs, heroin, fentanyl, all of that; there is a lethal dose so be careful what you take."
Another topic of interest included legalization of marijuana, for both medicinal and recreational uses. One student directed the question to Vadney, who cited his past voting record in favor of medical marijuana and decriminalizing small amounts of the drug. "I know what we're doing is not working," Vadney stated, claiming that jails are being crowded and people are being left "with a lifetime record of stupidity."
"I think you can't put this thing back in the bag. It's everywhere. I think we have to educate people on what to do, but to think that you can ban it and win is a losing battle," Vadney concluded.
Kenney also fielded a question about his thoughts on seatbelts. "My short answer would be 'Live free or die,'" he said. "We do a very good job with the youth of our state making sure they're protected and that the law is protected as well." He finished stating that adults have reached the age that they should know what is right and should not be mandated to buckle up if they do not want to.
Of course, in this election cycle it is all but impossible not to ask politicians how they feel about the current presidential campaign. Forrester was asked about her feelings on Republican candidate Donald Trump.
"He's certainly not, for me, a role model; I disagree with a lot of the things that he stands for," Forrester said. "He says a lot of things that i think he doesn't have a filter for and that's disappointing because the person you want to be your president you want to be proud of. I think in this election year we don't have a lot of good choices and it's going to be a tough election cycle."
The political panel provided an excellent opportunity for ILHS freshmen to get to know their local representatives' better and develop a better understanding of their jobs.
Laconia Mayor Ed Engler addresses students at Inter-Lakes High School Thursday about a career in politics. With him, from left, are state sen Jeanie Forrester, Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, state Rep. Valerie Fraser and state Rep. Herb Vadney. (Brooke Robinson/for The Laconia Daily Sun)
Students at Inter-Lakes High School asked questions of the panel about the drug problem in the Lakes Region, marijuana use, seat belts and Donald Trump. (Brooke Robinson/for The Laconia Daily Sun)