Published in the Tallahassee Democrat, October 10, 2012
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By Jordan Culver, Tallahassee Democrat writer
Brooke Williams already had a political mindset before she attended the James Madison Institute’s workshop for students involved with Youth Leadership Tallahassee.
She knew there would be a mayoral election to begin the day. Instead of just relying on an early morning speech, Williams, 16, went on the campaign trail. She came armed with buttons and water bottles with her name on them, ready to sway the potential voters.
That’s what Tuesday’s Government and Media Day was all about — showing high school students the political side of the county they live in.
“The mayoral candidate race was fun,” said Williams, who is a Leon High School student. “There were four kids running and we had a chance to discuss our platforms. Mine were about keeping Tallahassee family-friendly, technology and lowering taxes.”
JMI has sponsored Government and Media Day for the past five years, offering Leon County juniors a chance to experience politics on a firsthand basis. For the first time members of the media were also invited to mentor the students about how journalists play a key role in politics.
Students traveled to City Hall, the Supreme Court, JMI Headquarters and to the Capitol. For lunch they ate with city and county commissioners and several media representatives who were peppered with questions. County Commissioner Nick Maddox said the event was perfect for giving students an inside view on the types of decisions elected officials need to make. Before lunch, students took part in a mock county commission meeting. During the meeting students had 25 minutes to balance a budget, which was made more difficult by random disasters like tropical storms and decreased property values. “Students had a chance to look at those hard decisions we have to make that are sometimes unpopular,” Maddox said. “They saw some of the decisions that were easy. They also had a chance to realize some of the unexpected costs that come down from the state and federal governments.”
Like the Leon County Commission, the students didn’t always agree. SAIL High School student Amina Kana hashed it out with a few of the members of her table’s “commission.” Maddox said there was a full-blown argument because Kana and her fellow students had such conviction in their beliefs.
“One of the things I thought was, ‘If we’re going to cut something and cut $2 million, then the least we could do is increase our primary healthcare budget by $1 million,’ ” Kana said after the meeting. “But then I was called a socialist.”
Becky Liner, executive vice president for JMI, said she wanted students to walk away from Tuesday’s event with a greater appreciation for a citizen’s involvement with government. “Students need to know about the government and how it operates,” she said. “They can make a difference in their communities.”