CONCORD -- Alex Melese got a good dose of democracy, a chance for the first time to speak openly about politics -- free of reprisal -- and then won a mock presidential debate by a simple majority.
He championed manufacturing, made in the U.S.A., and limiting the amount citizens can borrow from the bank to reduce overspending.
A year ago, such rights were illusive for the Ethiopian native.
"It was really hard to (express) your opinion and speak up. People get arrested," he said. "Most of the kids here don't realize they have all this freedom."
The debate was a requisite part of a government class for seniors at Mt. Diablo High School.
The six male honors candidates, sporting button-down shirts, neckties and sweater vests, represented parties ranging from the Right and Alpha groups to the Beach Bums, and those calling themselves Wait for It or AKA the Change.
Along with grappling with the state of the economy, their platforms tackled the country's other divisive, tough topics, such as gay marriage, legalizing marijuana, immigration and pursuing alternative energy sources.
"Essentially they're creating a third party," said their teacher, Jenna Rentz, who has put on these presidential debates at the Concord campus for the past four years.
"They're much more excited about voting. They've researched these topics and realize how difficult these problems are to solve without alienating a segment of the American
The debate was the culmination of a four-week unit, during which groups of students filmed campaign ads, conducted political ideology surveys, wrote speeches and slogans, and filed financial reports, including funds raised from political action groups.
The students' campaign promises mirrored adults who have run for office, espousing such platitudes as "action speaks louder than words," said Alberto Elias of AKA the Change, who represented the middle class.
Meanwhile, members of Alex's party were strong proponents of education reform and he promised: "I have a plan. Now is not the time to lead America with trial and error ... I'm going to do what I say."
And, Daniel Para, representing the Alpha Party, referred to the much-mentioned desire to "make a better future for our children."
Candidates were split concerning cuts to military spending, boosting oil drilling in Alaska, or whether to cut the space program -- a topic that soon got heated.
"The best future is based on science ... I'd rather burn money than burn knowledge," said Alex, representing the Right Party, responding to the correspondingly prohibitive fuel costs.
However, there was strong support for taxing the wealthy, and they were united in a belief that U.S. borders needed tightening and those immigrants already in the country should not be deported.
"People who are already here, why kick them out? They're paying taxes like everyone else," said Libertarians Union candidate Rodolfo Garcia, also advocating that marijuana be legalized.
Marlon Quevedo of the Beach Bums went so far as to propose that cannabis be shelved "next to the (liquor) bottles and cigarettes" at the supermarket, while others stuck to restricting it to medical uses only.
And, Ken Wongdejenan, representing "the common people," pushed for universal health care -- within reason, he soon clarified.
"If you're sick or have broken bones, you should be helped by the government," said the member of the Wait for It party, adding that a prescribed brain scan should be reimbursed by private insurance.