Cary eighth-graders probe minds of lawmakers

State Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, spoke to students Monday at Cary Junior High School about what it’s like to be an elected official.
State Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, spoke to students Monday at Cary Junior High School about what it’s like to be an elected official.

CARY – Cary Junior High students in eighth grade U.S. History learned Monday what it’s like to be a state legislator.

State Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, and State Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, made 45-minute presentations to students.

“I think you need to learn how much your behavior, even now, affects the decisions we make in Springfield,” Althoff said.

The presentations are part of the school’s election-year activities, which will include a mock election a week from today.

Students asked about lowering the drinking age to 18, whether the legislators ever met President Barack Obama, and what is their favorite thing about being politicians.

Students also touched on issues such as school funding, the minimum driving age, abortion and the ability to conceal and carry firearms.

Christa Cummings asked what was the best part of being a legislator.

“The ability to change policy for the betterment of my constituents,” Althoff answered.

Eighth-grade history teacher Jon Diersen said he wanted students to find out what it’s like to be a representative, what it takes for a bill to become a law, how legislators handle different points of view, and the “nitty-gritty of being a state representative and state senator or [other] elected

Some students wanted to know how to get involved in politics.

“I think a college education is good … but I would tell you to live a life,” Althoff said. “Don’t go into government or political science without experiencing something else. You make a much better politician if you understand what real people are dealing with.”

Diersen said one of the messages Tryon gave during an earlier session with students was that people don’t have to run for office to be involved in politics. People can go to board meetings, read about issues and referendums, or get involved with campaigns.

Amanda Woods asked how legislators decide what laws they want to change or new laws to propose.

“Most of the ideas come from ... the people you represent,” Althoff said. Someone saying “... we should change that.’”

Maia Walker asked what law is not needed?

“We pass a lot of laws that aren’t necessary,” Althoff said. After thinking for moment she answered, “the moment of silence in school ... we don’t need that.”

One student asked how many promises Althoff has made and kept.

Althoff said because there are 118 representatives, 59 senators and the governor, it’s hard to have everyone on the same page.

“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t make a lot of promises because I don’t control the governmental process,” Althoff said. “We all have to agree on a piece of legislation or on a change, so I can’t control it and I explain that to people. The only promise I make that I always keep is that I will always give you 110 percent of my effort to make it happen.”

One student asked whether Althoff got along with others in the legislature.

“There’s a difference between disagreeing with someone and saying ‘I don’t support your idea’ ... as opposed to standing up and looking at somebody and saying, ‘you are dumb .... you don’t understand anything.’ People can have different ideas and different opinions, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that person is bad.”

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