January 7, 2011

EDITORIAL: Crucial access to legislators made available

The League of Women Voters has been around since 1920. In its nine decades of existence, it has been one of the most important instruments for democracy that citizens have.

Locally, the League of Women Voters of the Plattsburgh Area has tirelessly supported the public's right to government information, held non-partisan forums to probe candidates' stands on issues, and taken up the fight for the public on key issues, such as the environment.

It's hard to imagine life around here without the Plattsburgh League. The debates it annually arranges and hosts on Mountain Lake PBS to acquaint prospective voters with political candidates are the gold standard for this region.

Now, the league has undertaken a new initiative, and it should also become a staple of North Country life: On Saturday, the league will host an educational session designed to give students from Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties a deeper understanding of how the New York State Legislature works. It will run from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the Plattsburgh High Auditorium.

The league is calling it Meet Your Legislators. Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) and Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru) will attend and explain how the two houses of the legislature operate.

Two students from each area school have been chosen as representatives to the forum, but all students are invited and encouraged to attend.

Topics to be addressed include: steps in becoming a legislator, job descriptions, background, experience, committees, how a bill is introduced, the role of political parties, advantages and disadvantages of being a legislator and issues and people who have had an effect on the legislators' careers.

These are topics listed in a league news release, but, obviously, the potential for subjects of discussion is endless. If the students have any kind of curiosity about the government process in Albany or elsewhere, we would imagine the dialogue would be wide ranging indeed.

This is a ground-breaking opportunity for students to learn about government in a way that just can't be matched in a classroom.

First of all, let's give credit to Little and Duprey for giving up a Saturday for this event. They have many people and organizations competing for their time, and we're not at all surprised that they recognize this one for the potential it holds.

But let's not forget the league, either. This is an association of volunteers who happen to have a keen interest in government and the citizens for whom it works.

After the Meet Your Legislators event, a student and two alternates will be chosen by lottery to represent the North Country at an event in April called Students Inside Albany. There, chosen students will shadow one of the district's legislators for a day and watch the legislature at work.

We think Saturday's event is a wondrous chance for all students in the area to familiarize themselves with what seems to most people a mysterious and distant process.

Who knows — future senators and Assembly members may be in the audience.

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