GV students run for local political office

By Kyle Doyle | 10/16/16 11:28pm

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In less than a month, people across the country will be lining up to vote for the next president of the U.S., along with national, state and local legislative representatives, school board members, millages and ballot proposals.

But, unlike most students going to the polls, three Grand Valley State University students will be hoping they’re next in line for a representative position.

GVSU students River Gibbs, Eric-John Szczepaniak and Wesley Wilson have been hard at work on the campaign trail, trying to get their message heard and their name out to as many people as possible. These young adults are hoping to create change in their hometowns in a meaningful way.

And they’re apparently doing well.

“I just had my first campaign sign destroyed, so that actually can maybe be a good sign because people see me as, at least, moderately credible,” Gibbs said, who is running for trustee of Georgetown Township.

Szczepaniak, who is running for trustee of the Kenowa Hills school board, has had a similar experience recently when he tried to speak during a school board meeting Monday, Oct. 10.

“At their meeting, (they) didn’t want to hear any dissent,” Szczepaniak said. “They didn’t want to hear from the public and they didn’t like what I had to say, (so) they rebuked their own agenda that they had already passed.”

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Wilson has had few troubles because he is running unopposed for a Mona Shores school board trustee position.

“The president (of the school board) has kind of taken me under her wing,” Wilson said.

Each candidate has a unique background which has helped them establish why they want to run.

For Wilson, he hopes to use the six-year position as a stepping stone for later political endeavors, as well as bring someone to the school board who is more in tune with the feelings of high school students. He has worked on three campaigns, one of which is active, for two state representatives and a local sheriff.

Szczepaniak was involved in several organizations during his high school career including the Gay-Straight Alliance, and said he felt the school board didn’t really listen to the ideas and thoughts of the students. He plans on using his knowledge as someone fresh out of high school to help make decisions to benefit students. He faces a field of six candidates, including himself.

Gibbs was the executive board president of his high school’s school board and has always dreamed of being a township supervisor.

“My dream, even when I was a little kid, was to be the township supervisor, as soon as I was old enough,” Gibbs said. “Once I got older, I realized maybe that’s kind of a stretch, so now I’m going for township trustee.”

A close family friend encouraged Gibbs to go out for the position, so he decided to make his dream a reality. He is running against five other candidates.

Unlike the backgrounds they come from, the candidates have a common theme to what they see themselves doing in office. For the trio, they want to spend a great deal of time listening to others' concerns.

If elected, a few items Szczepaniak plans to establish include adding student board members, offering students the chance to be part of the decision making process, as well as exit interviews for outgoings seniors, allowing students to talk with board members about what was good, what was bad and what needed to be changed during their high school career.

“It gives the school board tons of new ideas from young faces and it also lets them know ‘are we really preparing students for life post-high school?’” Szczepaniak said.

Wilson has a similar plan to Szczepaniak's to collect student input at school board meetings. He also wants to get funding for updating technology in the district.

“The students really know what’s going on, just aesthetically wise, like the culture of a building,” Wilson said. “They’re the ones that are there everyday.”

Gibbs follows suit when it comes to listening more, but his policies differ as he is not running for a school board. Gibbs wants to sell a small plot of land to Starbucks to open up a franchise and also create a paved park on a larger plot.

“It’s a glorified parking lot really,” Gibbs said. “So, you just pave it, then you hold farmers markets there, music events, drive-in movie theaters, things where you just need somewhere to park and walk around.”

All three candidates share an enthusiasm for the political process and are all excited for the election coming up.

“I have learned so much, and I’m a better person because of it, having been able to speak to so many people from my township, ” Gibbs said. “Just getting their ideas, and their two cents (has) been really good. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

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