Rotarians host teens for lessons in politics

‘Eye opening’ experience at the Missouri Capitol

Politicians often get a bad rap, but a group of high school students came away with a better first impression after visiting the Capital City Tuesday morning.

Hosted by the Rotary Club of Jefferson City, about 110 students visited the Capitol before convening for a luncheon at Capitol Plaza Hotel, where they heard a cross-section of political leaders talk about their jobs.

Giving the keynote address, Secretary of State Jason Kander —a veteran of the war in Afghanistan — said he admires people who have the courage “to do what’s right and not just what’s easy.”

During his tour in Afghanistan, Kander was impressed with the courage exhibited by a female Afghan elected official who daily faced the possibility of danger.

“You hear people talk about ‘political courage.’ But I have seen what it means to have true courage,” he said.

When asked about the best way to get involved in politics, Kander suggested people who are interested in running for office first should get involved in making their communities better.

“You’ll get to know a lot of people,” he said. And when the time comes to campaign, people will already be familiar with your personality and work ethic and will be more likely to vote for you, he added.

Kander said some politicians have a desire to “be somebody” and others have an ambition to “do something.” He exhorted the teen listeners to be the latter.

Some politicians are willing to say what is necessary to get and stay elected, he said. But he admires leaders who are driven to do what they believe is the right thing, rather than making the most politically expedient or popular decision. Good leaders are able to persuasively explain their choices to others.

“If you have some political skill, you can manage the consequences” of a controversial decision, he said.

Other speakers included: Supreme Court Judge Mary Russell; Monsignor Robert A.

Kurwicki, chaplain of the Missouri House; Missouri Gaming Commission Executive Director Roger Stottlemyre; and Deputy Attorney General Joe Dandurand.

Thirty students from Jefferson City attended the morning conference. They started their morning with a visit with Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, followed by time spent in the House and Senate chambers.

Kaitlyn Nelson, 18, and a senior at Jefferson City High School, said the experience was “eye opening.”

Nelson — who is contemplating a career serving the public, possibly in education or law enforcement — said Kehoe graciously welcomed the students to his office.

“He said his office is really the people’s office,” she said.

And she said she was impressed with Kander’s message and his zeal to fight corruption.

“That really stood out with me,” Nelson said. “You always hear the stereotypes about politicians. But I found they may not all be true.”

Nelson said students were invited to attend the event after being nominated by their teachers.

Heidi Vollet, president of the Rotary Club of Jefferson City, said the goal of the 55th Annual Student Government Day Luncheon was to familiarize the students with all three branches of Missouri government.

“Our goal is to give high school students an up close and more personal view of state government,” Vollet said.

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