Taking advantage of all the campaign energy charging the atmosphere, Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, sparked political involvement in the minds Ninilchik School students on Monday.
Presenting and listening to both sides of the issues gave Torgerson an idea of future voters' opinions and helped students examine their own views.
Mike Scalzo, a senior in Bernie Clark's government class, peppered Torgerson with questions about a range of subjects, including Ballot Measure 4, limiting property assessment and taxation.
"I wasn't sure what the tax cap meant," Scalzo said.
But Torgerson's explanation cleared up the confusion.
Scalzo also tossed Torgerson questions on opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for development.
"I even asked him about having too much homework, and he said, 'Yes, we'll have to work on that,'" Scalzo said.
Tiffany Stonecipher, another senior in Clark's class, took advantage of Torgerson's visit to explore issues surrounding Ballot Measure 5, allowing uses of hemp and hemp products.
"I agreed with a lot of his comments, but some of his ideas were a little too optimistic," said Stonecipher, basing her views on individuals she knows who have benefited medically from use of marijuana.
Mike Weatherbee, administrator at Ninilchik School, offered Torgerson the invitation when the two made contact at a recent youth leadership conference. Rich Redmond, Ninilchik School counselor, helped coordinate Torgerson's visit to Redmond's career guidance class and Clark's government class.
"He was motivating for the students," Redmond said. "He sowed some seeds, getting the students to think about stuff they haven't even thought about."
Redmond's career guidance class of 15 juniors listened to Torgerson describe career opportunities in politics. The senator also gave them his thoughts on involvement in the political process.
"Torgerson's philosophy is that you can't change something from the outside," Redmond said. "You've got to get involved and help out. There's always people with opinions who gripe about situations. ... You can gripe all you want, but nothing is going to happen if you don't get involved."
Seniors in Clark's government class asked Torgerson more questions than he had time to answer.
"He went down the list, answering questions and engaging them in discussion," Clark said. "There was a real good, honest exchange of ideas."
Torgerson also addressed individual questions, providing one student with information about applying to the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
"He helped them know that as youngsters they can still be effective citizens and actually partake in government," Clark said. "It's not a big scary step that's over their heads.
Torgerson said his meetings with students give them an opportunity to realize that "state government isn't as big and bad as what they read about. It gives them an opportunity to interact and actually learn."
"I try to represent both sides of issues so they aren't clouded with just my thinking, and so they can learn both sides and make up their own minds," the District E senator said.
Translating involvement into terms the students could understand helped bring Torgerson's message home.
"This year I especially talked about their responsibility when they turn 18," he said, referring to the voting process. "I talked about the 17 percent voter turnout and about how many kids would be making the decision for the whole class. There would be two or three who would vote to set the policy for the rest of the class. My major message was to get out and vote.
"Alaska's a very small state," Torgerson said. "They shouldn't be afraid of elected officials or voicing their opinions.
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