High school students get a close look at state government during a busy week

Cameron Mickia Kendrick Andrew (left) and Jacob Michael Andrew in front of House chambers on Feb. 13, 2019. (Photo by Zoe Grueskin/KTOO)

Cameron Mickia Kendrick Andrew (left) and Jacob Michael Andrew in front of the Alaska House of Representatives chambers on Feb. 13, 2019. (Photo by Zoe Grueskin/KTOO)

High school students from across Alaska were at the Capitol this month to see for themselves how state government works. As it turned out, they were there at an especially busy time.

Cameron Mickia Kendrick Andrew said from what he’s seen, it’s usually pretty quiet up at the Capitol.

“We, like, barely see anybody walking around. They’re probably in, like, rooms or something,” he said.

But this day was different. Cameron said the halls of the state Capitol building were uncommonly busy. And outside was another unusual sight.

“There was people outside the Capitol, like, holding up signs. Like, whoa, that’s different,” Cameron said. He read the signs and knew it had something to do with education.

That busy day was Feb. 13 — the day Gov. Michael Dunleavy released his plan for the next state budget. Among its proposals was a more than 40 percent cut to the University of Alaska system — the reason for the rally on the Capitol steps.

But mostly, Cameron was focused on other things that week. The 18-year-old high school senior from New Stuyahok was part of a program called Alaska Close Up that brings students from around the state to the capital city to learn about state government. The group toured state buildings, met lawmakers and studied real bills.

A few students, including Cameron, got an even closer look at the legislative process, spending the week as interns for state senators or representatives.

They were assigned typical intern stuff: make copies, send emails…

“Write down the schedule and go to different meetings that I can attend to, like, take notes,” said Cameron.

Cameron was placed with his district’s representative, House Speaker Bryce Edgmon. Cameron said he mostly worked with staffers, but he and another intern did get to meet the representative. Cameron said they bonded over a shared interest in basketball.

That other intern was Cameron’s cousin, Jacob Michael Andrew, a 16-year-old also from New Stuyahok. He interned with Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, who represents the Bethel area.

Jacob said he thought being an intern would be hard, but it’s actually pretty fun. He especially liked working with his short-term colleagues in the representative’s office.

“They’re always having fun,” Jacob said. “Won’t be bored with them.”

And those staffers soon had plenty to save them from potential boredom: After 31 days of deadlock, the House elected a speaker the very next day. Rep. Zulkosky is serving in the House majority, and Cameron’s host, Rep. Edgmon, was voted speaker of the House.

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