A lesson in politics

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 12, 2003

ST. PAUL – The house floor at the state capitol in St. Paul was busy Friday.

In fact, there were probably more controversial bills passed on Friday than the state legislature has passed in the past three years.

But it wasn’t the state legislature at work, it was high school students from across the state participating in the YMCA’s Youth in Government program.

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Carl Samuelson, a senior at Albert Lea High school was one of 47 students from Albert Lea to participate in the event.

In the course of an hour he argued in favor of acknowledging same-sex marriages, proposed a bill to outlaw negative campaign advertisements for elections, and spoke on an amendment to a bill on teachers salaries.

Samuelson was dressed in a suit and tie. His comments on the floor were intelligent and well stated. He followed parliamentary procedure. Altogether, he could have been mistaken for a state representative.

Samuelson is not unlike the 1,700 other students from across the state participate in the annual event. Each student seems to have an adept mind for politics and how they work. They look as involved and interested as any politician might be.

The event started on Thursday and runs through today.

The Albert Lea family Y has been involved in the program for 19 years. Some years as many as 120 students have been involved. Students pay $300 to participate, but use fundraisers throughout the year to decrease what they pay out of pocket.

Youth in Government was started in 1946. It began as a simulation of a simplified governor and legislature. Through its history, it is has grown to incorporate legislators, pages, judges, justices attorneys, lobbyists, cabinet members, news media as well as many other facets of state government.

“It is an incredible program,” Steve Bowron, of Albert Lea, an advisor for youth in government participants. “The similarities between it and the real state government are very strong. Everything they do is done with such detail that it really mimics every part of state government.”

Bowron began assisting Albert Lea students in Youth in Government when his two daughters went through the program nine years ago. After they graduated he stayed on because he enjoyed the event so much.

“I was so impressed with the program that I decided to stay involved,” he said. Smiling, he continued, “I think I’ll stay with it until they kick me out.”

Eighth graders through Seniors in high school can participate.

For the eighth graders the four day event is focused on learning about the inter-workings of government. They spend most of their time taking tours of government buildings in Minneapolis and St. Paul. But they also work as pages on the floor of the 11th and 12th grade house and senate.

Melony Olson, 13, and Allie Leland, 13, both of Albert Lea, worked as pages on the 11th and 12th grade house floor.

“It’s mostly an educational program now,” Olson said. “But as pages we get to bring notes to senators and representatives. We get to go underneath the buildings and through the tunnels to the others buildings to deliver the notes.”

“It’s been a lot of fun so far,” Leland added.

Julianna Peterson, 18, a senior at ALHS, ran for governor last year at the Youth in Government caucus in Mankato. The caucus, which occurs in the fall, is the first part of the annual program. Students run for office and get picked for cabinet spots.

Though Peterson lost the Lieutenant Governor’s race, she still was happy to have run.

&uot;It was so much fun,&uot; she said. &uot;I’m so glad we decided to run.&uot;

Peterson, like most other seniors from Albert Lea, has been in the program since she was in eighth grade. Popular and persuasive, she has twice been selected as the Speaker of the House. She said that the program has spawned a great interest in politics for her.

&uot;I think I will always try to stay involved, on smaller levels for sure,&uot; she said. &uot;Maybe, I’ll run for mayor or something like that.&uot;