On Wednesday, viewers across the country turned on their televisions to watch the presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. An hour earlier, two candidates with much lower name recognition, Dan Dauplaise and Scott Frantz, the candidates for Connecticut's 36th state senate district, held a similar debate focused on the role of the government and the vision forward for the state of Connecticut.
And while on the national level, the Republican candidate Mitt Romney emerged as the consensus winner, on the local level Romney's close friend and prominent fundraiser, Frantz, was felled by a novice in the political arena, the 27-year-old Democrat Dan Dauplaise.
With a balance of specific answers, charisma, and wit, Dauplaise distinguished himself as a self-described "conservative democrat" who critiqued Frantz for an inactive four years in office. Frantz offered little in terms of policy solutions and referred back to a stance of tax breaks for businesses and limited government. When asked what specifically he would cut, the incumbent answered that cuts should be made across the board and that "low-hanging fruit" should be trimmed from the state budget.
In contrast, Dauplaise offered specific solutions not only to the state's budgetary problems (the challenger promised to take a hard line on negotiations with public unions to reduce costs to the state), but in other areas like education, healthcare, and the infamous Connecticut Light and Power.
In education specifically, Dauplaise proposed an innovative new idea which he referred to as an "educational micro-grant program," a program in which teachers could apply for a grant from the state for a specific purpose, such as new lab equipment or a special field trip. This type of idea would help get around the bureaucracy of the education system and put critical funding directly in the classrooms.
From my point of view, the winner of the debate truly emerged at its close, when after a series of strong points, Dauplaise summed up his argument with a message of investment in the state.
As a young person looking ahead to the future, I agreed heavily with his notion that tax cuts are not the "silver bullet" to economic development, and that in thirty years we will not look back at what the tax rate was. Rather, we will look back at the investments the state has made in the education system, healthcare for the underprivileged, and transportation for local businesses and commuters in Connecticut.
And perhaps most importantly of all, he seemed genuinely passionate about government. Not just in the way the normal politician sounds when he or she is speaking "genuinely," but in a tone that showed he wasn't only "promising" to do certain things as his opponent continues to do, but that he is the real deal.
So while most political junkies will remember Wednesday night in one way, I will certainly remember it for the wonderful public forum and passion for local issues shown by Dan Dauplaise, a candidate who has earned my full-fledged support in November, even if I'm not of voting age.