Tyler Hinsley

Tyler Hinsley

On a night during which presidential hopefuls in Tampa sought to win support of tea party groups across the country, Napa’s own branch had its time in the limelight.

During Monday night’s CNN-Tea Party Express debate, Tyler Hinsley — a 17-year old senior at Vintage High School — took to the microphone to do his part in vetting the pool of GOP candidates.

“Of every dollar that I earn, how much do you think I deserve to keep?” Hinsley asked the candidates, before being met with a round of applause from the in-studio audience.

Hinsley — son of Napa Tea Party coordinator Pam Silleman, who accompanied him to the debate — had his question directed to former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman by Wolf Blitzer, CNN’s anchor and moderator of the debate.

“Well, I’ve come out with a tax program that basically simplifies, lowers, flattens the rate. Why? Because I did it as governor in the state of Utah,” Huntsman said in his response. “I believe that that experience means something.”

The former governor went on to call for changes in the nation’s corporate tax code before yielding the floor to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who also spoke to corporate tax loopholes.

The answers, Hinsley said, fell short of what he was expecting.

“I think they responded pretty poorly,” he said. “They kind of avoided my question.”

While Hinsley might not have gotten the answer he was hoping for, he still said his role in Monday night’s debate was a “once- in-a-lifetime experience” and one that came together at nearly the last minute.

Up until Monday night, neither Hinsley nor Silleman had received word from CNN’s produces about whether they would be allowed to pose a question to the candidates. 

Producers had shown interest in Hinsley’s submission in the days leading up the debate, Silleman said, but waited until only moments before the event began to break the news to her son.

“I didn’t find out until right before the debate,” Hinsley said. “I was real nervous, but once I had the mic in my hand I just narrowed in and focused on my question.”

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The reaction to Hinsley’s on-camera appearance was almost as unexpected as the experience itself, he said.

On Tuesday morning, Silleman appeared on CNN’s morning show to share her feelings on the previous night’s debate. Shortly after, she received a call from the Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” to ask if Hinsley would be willing to appear on Thursday morning’s show.

“It was a complete surprise,” he said.

Hinsley and Silleman’s appearance in Tampa came roughly two weeks after the Tea Party Express kicked off its national bus tour at the Napa Valley Expo.

Hinsley, who will be turning 18 just in time to cast a vote in the November 2012 election, said that engaging in the political process from a young age was an important part of our democratic system, especially at a time like today.

“We need more educated voters in the election process,” he said. “I just encourage everyone to watch, especially the youth.”

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