Legislators visit peninsula schools

Posted: Monday, September 18, 2000

Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, stood in front of a group Friday to speak about the importance of voter registration and the recent low voter turnout.

But the crowd was not just interested voters, in fact, most of the Soldotna High School U.S. government seniors are not even of voting age.

"These kids are very bright," Torgerson said.

He was one of many state legislators who took to middle and high school classrooms Friday to participate in America's Legislators Back to School Day.

The new initiative will teach students the value of public service in a nationwide program sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

While Torgerson spoke to SoHi seniors, Rep. Gary Davis, R-Soldotna, spoke at Soldotna Middle School and Rep. Hal Smalley, D- Kenai, spoke at Kenai Central High School.

Each of the legislators showed the class a nine-minute video as a part of their speech.

Organizers of the event said they hope the classes will not only shed light on how the legislative process works, but also teach young people the importance of public service.

Torgerson said he stressed the importance of voting, registration, leadership, issues on the ballot and the organization of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate to each of the four 45-minute classes he spoke to.

"It is good for them to understand it," he said, "It is one of the fun parts of the territory."

Alyison Stogsdill, a Kenai Legislative Information officer, also explained how registering to vote could affect the permanent fund dividend of Alaska residents.

Torgerson said he emphasized the importance of voter turnout because of the 17 percent turnout reported during the Aug. 22 primary.

To get his point across, he asked everyone to stand up.

He then asked 50 percent of the class to sit down, then 50 percent of that group was asked to sit down, until 17 percent of the class remained standing -- leaving about two students.

U.S. government teacher Dan Harbison said he has lost track of how many times the senator has visited his class, but the visit gives his students a human side to government and shows them how assessable the government representatives are.

"I think it does have a profound effect on students," Harbison said.

It also is the first time many of the students have met their legislators, he added.

Harbison said Torgerson also was instrumental in getting some of his students to Juneau to see the legislature in progress.

He said before the end of the spring semester, he will try to get in as many governmental figures as possible, including legislators, representatives from area cities, the Kenai Peninsula Borough governments and area and state lobbyists.

The figures usually are more than willing to participate in the classroom, Harbison said, but it depends on their schedules.

"I think they (the students) left with a better understanding of the impact of their vote," he said.

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