Stater representatives gain practical experience in government

This article submitted by Stephanie Everson on 07/15/97.

Three Paynesville Area High School students returned from the American Legion Boys and Legion Auxiliary Girls State on June 14. Sene Binsfeld and Tom Robertson, representing Paynesville, and Craig Keller, representing Lake Henry, found their week-long experience enlightening.

The Legion Boys and Girls State is a time for the previous year's high school juniors to gain practical experience in state and local government through seminars, mock government situations, and other activities. Each student was assigned with a city, in which they operated as a citizen and lawmaker on the city, county, and state level. Through participation, the students learned what it takes to design legislative bills and see some fail and others signed into law. They also learned how each area and branch of government works, and how that happens.

Sene Binsfeld, daughter of Harold and Janice Binsfeld couldn't pick out any one memorable moment, commenting that the entire experience was the most memorable thing she has ever done. During her stay on the campus of Bethel College, she, and 450 other girls from around Minnesota, learned that they, as women and citizens, have an important role in every area of government.

Each new day was dedicated to a specific area of government, such as county, state, judicial, and capitol, and one day's activities focused on Americanism. Every day also saw new speakers who specialized in that day's topic, from an FBI agent, to a Minnesota Supreme Court Justice.

There was also the sites, like the State Capitol, where the girls saw firsthand the process in which one person's idea can be made into a law. Binsfeld took on the duties of a senator, putting her new knowledge into practice as she played her part in mock trials, legislative conferences, and sessions. As a member of the finance committee, she also took part in drawing up a proposed Twins Stadium finance bill.

Binsfeld also participated in a mock trial in which a girl was tried for weapons possession. The girl had brought a dassoan knife, which is a knife used to cut reeds, to school with her. The school had a zero tolerance weapons policy, and the girl was found guilty by the mock jury.

One speaker who was particularly motivating for Binsfeld, was a woman who spoke to the young women about the challenges they will face as minorities in today's governmental processes. She expressed that women were created equal to men, and that it is up to them to work just as hard to make sure women are represented in government.

"I learned a lot about government," Binsfeld said of her experience. She also mentioned that the people she met were especially important to her, gaining life-long friendships with other girls, with whom she is already corresponding through letters.

Craig Keller, son of Kenneth and Louisa Keller, spent his legion state experience with 450 other young men on the campus of St. Olaf College. He mentioned that each day was different, and there was hardly any free time. He also had the chance to participate in mock government activities, serving as treasurer of the city of Hibbing, as well as a member of the Crow Wing County Board.

One memorable and learning experience was when one of the dormitory councilors was brought to their mock court for being a public nuisance. He had ridden his bicycle down the dorm hall and created a disturbance, so the students brought him before their jury, of which Keller was a member. The jury found him guilty and sentenced him to go to the Dairy Queen in Northfield and bring back Dilly Bars for everyone who was disturbed by his bicycle riding in the dorm hall.

Keller recalled hearing several speakers, but none was given more attention than Skip Humphrey. Humphrey spoke to them on the topic of the problems surrounding tobacco and tobacco companies, and the importance of managing their lives and making the right choices.

Tom Robertson, son of Pete and Sue Dingmann, was also inspired by Skip Humphrey's speech. Robertson was motivated by the challenge Humphrey gave the boy's staters; stating that the Minnesota's government is not getting things done, and every one of them have the chance, and need to get involved, to get the ball rolling.

With a week of constant intellectual activity, the boys started their day off early with calisthenics, which actually only consisted of finger push-ups; but the rest of the day was filled with mock government sessions, special speakers, studying, and various presentations.

Robertson realized the challenges involved in running for elected offices and the work those offices entail. The first day, he volunteered to temporarily fill the vacant spot of city clerk until elections could be held. "I didn't realize the amount of organization and paper work involved," Robertson commented.

Although he was defeated for a seat in the House, Robertson learned much about the workings of county government as a member of the Cook County Board.

With the practical experience the three Paynesville Area High School students received at their Legion Boy's and Girl's State experiences, they will now know more of what to expect, should they decide to run for the actual offices sometime in their future.

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