MANKATO — Before getting involved in the Youth in Government program, Elissa Schmiel didn't exactly have the best impression of lobbyists.
"I knew they weren’t exactly the most popular people in Washington," said Schmiel, who is a repeat customer when it comes to Youth in Government. "But I thought, why not step into their shoes, see if you can make it a better position, make it not so hated and associated with malice."
Schmiel, a junior at Mankato West High School, will be among the 50 or so students from the Mankato area heading up to St. Paul in a few months to take part in the Youth in Government weekend, a crash course on how the state's government operates on everything from crafting legislation, the Supreme Court or, in Schmiel's case, how lobbying works.
The point is to teach young people how the process works and, more importantly, how to be a part of it in a meaningful way.
Aaron Miller, a social studies teacher at West High School, said he's been involved with the program for seven years. In that time the program's enrollment has grown steadily. When he took over, they were were seeing roughly 15 students sign up. Last year, they had 59 and they're hoping for a similar number this year.
Prior to the big Youth in Government weekend, the students who pay to be involved get together regularly to prepare. They choose a position — legislator, litigator of a Supreme Court case, lobbyist, etc. — and prepare. In Schmiel's case, she'll be assigned a cause and become a lobbyist for that cause. Last year she was a lobbyist for the National Organization for Women and needed to prepare position statements on several issues. Then, at the weekend of the Youth in Government conference, she needed to defend those positions.