Bill Garcia has his sights set on running for the U.S. Senate. But Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer needn’t worry yet. He is still in high school.
Garcia is one of 12 Eastlake High School students who whetted their appetite for politics by participating in the South Bay Family YMCA’s Youth and Government program.
From February 16 to 19 the group joined 2,000 other students in Sacramento for the 59th annual California YMCA Model Legislature and Court. Participants occupied the offices of the California State Legislature and functioned in the roles of governor, state senators, assemblymen, lobbyists, pages, judges and journalists. Their meetings and deliberations followed standard parliamentary order.
The California YMCA Youth & Government program is the only youth organization with annual use of the State Capitol and its historic chambers.
Garcia sponsored a bill that would increase taxation from 46 to 49 percent on wholesale tobacco and cigarettes, and from 87 to 97 cents on a pack of cigarettes. Revenues would be earmarked for tobacco education and research programs, healthcare for uninsured Californians and wildlife preservation.
The experience was a pivotal one, influencing Garcia’s career goals.
“A lot of people want to president, but I learned that that’s not where the power is. Congress writes all the bills. In the House of Representatives you are one in 435. In the U.S. Senate you are only one in 100.
“The coolest thing to me was using the California senate chambers,” Garcia said. “It’s the place where all the major decisions are made in our state.”
Jessica Nobbe serves as teen program coordinator for the South Bay Family Y’s Youth and Government program.
“If a bill is approved by the youth governor, it will proceed to the real California legislature,” she said. “A lot of bills such as the helmet law for minors and healthcare for underprivileged children were originally written and sponsored by participants in the Youth and Government program.”
Alyssa Haw, student president of the South Bay Family Y’s Youth and Government program, served on the National Issues program. Her group proposed that on-line interactive video games such as the “World of Warcraft” that host chat rooms be sold exclusively in retail stores and require parental consent. Haw said that this would lower the risk of children being solicited online for sex.
“This is the third Youth and Government program I’ve participated in,” she said. “I like being able to address other kids and express my opinions about how to change the nation. I hope to major in political science at Cal State Fullerton.”
Virginia Hagensieker functioned in the role of a lobbyist.
“We were split into political action committees, and I had to try to persuade other political delegates to sign my initiative,” she said. “It was hard, but the whole thing was a great experience.
“Next year I’ll be attending Sonoma State University, most likely majoring in political science,” she added. “Since I can’t be a delegate anymore, I want to return as an intern where I can help sophomores form committees and present their ideas in a bill.”
Each governor since Earl Warren in 1949 has participated in the California Youth and Government program, often with a speech followed by a question-and-answer session. This year the group was treated to an address by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The South Bay Family Y’s Youth and Government program is funded in part by the “Strong Kids Program” which is in the midst of its annual fundraising campaign that will continue until March 9.
The “Strong Kids Program” provides YMCA memberships to families in financial need. Of the 30,000 South Bay YMCA members, more than 10,000 belong as a result of this program.
“Our goal is to raise $270,000, an increase from $250,000 last year,” executive director Tina Williams said. “This will make it possible for us to accept anyone regardless of income, and to help us subsidize some of our teen and youth programs.
For more information, or to make a donation to the “Strong Kids Program,” contact Tina Williams or Craig Smith, development director, at (619) 421-8805.