The Senator vs. Silver Chips

Saturday, June 17, 2006

SOME OF THE loneliest places in America last Tuesday were polling places in Virginia. A statewide primary was underway to select the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, but so few Virginians stirred themselves to vote that poll workers sat bored for long stretches fanning themselves. Turnout was 3.45 percent -- and probably a good deal lower than that among younger voters.

Meanwhile, across the Potomac in Maryland, a politician and a high school principal were reprimanding some teenage student journalists. Their sin? Taking an interest -- and taking sides -- in a state Senate

campaign.

The journalists, students at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, work on the school's award-winning paper, Silver Chips. They had the audacity to write an editorial supporting law professor Jamin Raskin, who is challenging state Sen. Ida G. Ruben (D-Montgomery) in the September primary. The incoming co-editor of the newspaper, Isaac Arnsdorf, said a staffer for the paper tried repeatedly to contact Mrs. Ruben, leaving multiple messages and even reaching her once, fleetingly, by phone; she didn't call back. Mrs. Ruben, who is irate about the paper's endorsement, said she doesn't recall getting the messages.

Now Mrs. Ruben is making demands (equal time!). Montgomery Blair's principal, evidently squirming at having provoked a state senator, has harrumphed at the editorial ("not appropriate"). As for the paper's main readers, students at Montgomery Blair . . . well, mostly they're too young to vote. The only real grown-up in the debate seems to be Mr. Arnsdorf, who is 16. "Silver Chips is a public forum for student expression," he told The Post's Lori Aratani. "It's an unsigned editorial representing the viewpoint of the editorial board and not necessarily the school."

Mrs. Ruben has been a member of Maryland's General Assembly since 1975, twice as long as Mr. Arnsdorf has been alive. Yet in this tussle he looks like the cool-headed pro and she looks like an ill-tempered rookie. Why is Mrs. Ruben so worked up about an editorial in a student newspaper? And why shouldn't a student newspaper write about and express its opinion on political races? It clearly serves an educational purpose, and, who knows, it might even generate some interest among students in local politics -- the same sort of interest so clearly lacking in too many parents.


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