By FELICIA KRIEG
---- — PERU — Area high school students met with state legislators Saturday in Peru Central School to further develop their knowledge of state government.
Fifteen schools in Clinton and Essex Counties selected two student delegates based on their achievement, character and interest in government for possible participation in the statewide third annual Students Inside Albany Conference from April 14 to 17.
The conference was founded and is sponsored by the League of Women Voters of New York State Education Foundation.
In Saturday’s “Meet Your State Legislature” program, the 33 delegates were given the opportunity to interact with the state legislators who represent the North Country area.
The program ended with the selection from a lottery of two student delegates, one from Clinton County and one from Essex County. Delegates Nate Casey of AuSable Valley Central School and Katie Woltner of Keene Central School were chosen. Their alternates are Tegan Belrose of Beekmantown Central School and Corinne White of Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School.
The League sponsors one student for the all-expenses-paid conference and the Plattsburgh Sunrise Rotary and the North East Area Labor Council will provide the funding to sponsor the other student.
Past conference topics of learning and discussion include “Tips for Being a Successful Citizen Lobbyist,” “Ethics: History, Process and Outcome” and “Redistricting Reform in New York State” as well as a “shadowing” period where students learn more about what’s it’s like to be a member of the Senate and Assembly.
Students asked Assemblywoman Janet Duprey (R-Peru), Assemblyman Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) and Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) a variety of hard-hitting questions covering controversial issues like hydraulic fracturing, gun control, stop-and-frisk practices in New York City and same-sex marriage.
Duprey provided the students with basic information about the government operating procedures and the pros and cons of her job.
“I’m going into my 38th year. Never once has our minority leader stood in front of us Republicans and told us how to vote,” Duprey said. “That has given me the flexibility to vote on behalf of what I believe is in the best interests of this district and my constituents on some very difficult issues in the past.”
Duprey voted for same-sex marriage, an issue that Brian Murray, a student delegate from Seton Catholic School, said isn’t a district issue, but more of a human rights issue. He also commended Duprey for voting against the NY Secure Firearms and Ammunition Enforcement (SAFE) Act of 2013 that became law earlier this month.
“She’s protecting civil liberties,” Brian Murray, said of Duprey after she addressed the delegates. “She’s willing to listen and she’s really representing the district. I think that’s good to hear. And she’s not partisan. She goes more off of what people in the district need than just the party line.”
Murray said he is active politically, participating in the Occupy movement in Plattsburgh, Burlington and New York City.
Caitlin Kozak, a senior at Chazy Central Rural School and vice president of the Student Council, said she recently sparked an interest in politics.
“I don’t know much about it, but I’m definitely interested in learning more,” Kozak said.
Even before the program was over, Kozak had already learned something new, she said.
“I learned that you definitely have to do what you believe is right because even though she’s (Duprey) with her party, she doesn’t always listen to what everyone else does.”
While some of the student delegates’ interest in government is purely academic, others are considering future careers in politics.
“I like seeing how the government decides what is best for its people,” said Justin Trombley, a junior at Northeastern Clinton Central. “I want to go into politics someday and maybe make a change in people’s lives. I think the best thing about politics, really, is what it can do for the people and that’s what I want to do.”
Trombley found having the legislators take questions and explain why they voted certain ways in the past helped him better understand all sides of the issues discussed, he said.
“I know she (Duprey) opposed the gun law and I wasn’t exactly sure why and after she explained it, I see why she opposed it.”
Stec answered students’, saying he would likely support having women in combat zones and the drilling for natural gas in New York using hydraulic technology, although he is waiting to learn more about the issues.
Betty Little discussed the challenges of growing the North Country economy with the stringent restrictions imposed by environmental agencies in an effort to protect the Adirondacks as well as expanding cell phone coverage to protect the safety of travelers.
Inge Sapp relayed her experiences as a Hitler Youth growing up in Germany with no voting rights.
“I was brainwashed,” she said. But she urged the students to stay informed. “You live in a country where you can speak and talk and question.”
And it’s clear that even at a young age, the student delegates were already asking tough questions.
“I think it’s great that they (the legislators) come out and can recognize that we’re the future of government,” said Kelly Cantwell, a delegate from Plattsburgh High School.
“It’s important that we know what’s going on.”
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