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October 20, 2017

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For Rancho High students, a real-life lesson in politics in Angle exchange

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Justin M. Bowen

Rancho High School jr. Debbie Rios poses for a portrait Tuesday, October 19, 2010.

Debbie Rios

Rancho High School jr. Debbie Rios poses for a portrait Tuesday, October 19, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Sharron Angle

Sharron Angle

Map of Rancho

Rancho

1900 Searles Avenue, Las Vegas

Whatever happened in Room 513, a small lecture hall in cavernous Rancho High School, it was, by any standard, one heckuva civics lesson.

The exchange Friday between Sharron Angle, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate, and about 130 largely Hispanic students in the standing-room-only room was, by turns, surprising, evasive and enraging, according to students who were there.

It was the buzz of Rancho High by Monday morning and, because of news coverage and a YouTube video over the weekend, a national bone of contention in the poisonous race between Angle and Democratic incumbent Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader.

In a meandering question-and-answer session, Angle, who has made a stance against illegal immigration a mainstay of her campaign, had been asked why her television commercials seemed to stereotype Latinos as thugs.

On one commercial showing three Hispanic men, Angle insisted it wasn’t anti-Hispanic, that America was a melting pot and that some of the students in the room didn’t look Latino but Asian. In fact, she said she was once described as the first Asian state legislator in Nevada.

“It was, like, confusing,” recalled Yvonne Tapia, 16, who was there. “She didn’t answer our questions well. It was more like babble, just talking and talking and talking.”

Alex Mata, 15, said he was offended by Angle’s answers and her television commercials. “If she can’t answer smart questions from high school students,” he said, “how is she going to do it when she’s higher up there” in the Senate?

Most students at the meeting aren’t old enough to vote. An exception was Janet Manzo, who recently turned 18 and plans to vote against Angle on Saturday. Angle’s answers “confirmed my suspicions,” she said.

Some of the few adults there were outraged, too. “Instead of acknowledging our students’ ethnicity, she denied it,” said A.Y. Rojas, 55, a biology teacher. “You could be Asians for all I know is what she was saying. That rubbed me as rude.”

Isaac Barron, 40, a history teacher and the faculty adviser to the students who organized the meeting, is more philosophical.

Politicians “shouldn’t underestimate our youth,” he said. “These children were able to get a senatorial candidate, of probably the most contentious race in the United States, to appear at their high school and talk to them.”

He added, “Most of these children aren’t of voting age and even if they don’t participate in this election, they’re going to vote in upcoming elections.”

A spokeswoman for Angle was provided with student and faculty quotations from this article but did not respond to a request for comment.

The controversy may have started — but who really knows? — with Debbie Rios, 16, who sat in front of Angle last week.

She is a student at Rancho High, which serves a predominantly working-class Hispanic section of Las Vegas.

Politicians — most often Democrats — come to Rancho High to court the Hispanic vote. Almost a quarter of Nevada’s population is Hispanic.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; Harry Reid; and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, when both were running for president, have spoken at Rancho to youngsters who can’t vote but presumably have older family and friends who do.

Rancho students ask Republicans to the school but they normally don’t come. Rios is the junior-class representative of the Hispanic Student Union, which spent months persuading Angle to speak.

So it was a pleasant surprise when Angle, who has declined many invitations by other groups, accepted. Rios was seated in the front row when Angle stood up to take written questions. (The student group usually videotapes speakers but Angle aides asked the group not to.)

Students say Angle flubbed one of the first questions about Millennium Scholarships, highly praised by members of the student union, most of whom want to go to college.

At first, Angle denied opposing the scholarships and, in a wandering answer, concluded by saying that is why she voted against them while in the state Legislature. Students began shaking their heads.

Angle really touched a nerve on a question about her television commercials, one of which depicts three smug, even menacing-looking, Hispanic males.

Then, she said, according to a secretly recorded video later uploaded to YouTube, “So that’s what we want is a secure and sovereign nation and, you know, I don’t know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look a little more Asian to me. I don’t know that.”

She added, “What we know, what we know about ourselves is that we are a melting pot in this country. My grandchildren are evidence of that. I’m evidence of that. I’ve been called the first Asian legislator in our Nevada state Assembly.”

Rios noticed something. When Angle said some of you look Asian, Angle was looking at her.

“She was referring to me, looking straight at me in the eye,” Rios said. “All the people around her noticed that she was talking to me. Then I smiled and said I wasn’t Asian. I kind of do look Asian but I’m not.”

Rios’ parents come from Guatemala. Her mother is a housekeeper and her father is an unemployed construction worker. She told a reporter later that one Filipino boy was at the assembly.

After the Asian remarks, the students say Angle’s aides quickly hustled her out the door.

Tapia, who plans to go to college, was reflective about the experience. “I took away from this whole thing that you shouldn’t listen to political ads and commercials.”

She added, “You should, like, look at the facts that both candidates say and just research more to see who you really want to vote for.” She noted that by Tuesday morning, the buzz in school about Angle had died down.

Meanwhile, in Room 513, the lecture hall where Angle spoke last week, four “Angle for Senate” signs lie on a table. No one has picked them up.

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