Mon. Jul 26th, 2021

Seven rising seniors at Victoria high schools are trying their hand at politics this week, debating bills that would convert Texas entirely to nuclear energy, abolish mandatory minimum prison sentences and even switch the official state bird to the ostrich.

Each summer, high schoolers from across Texas convene in Austin to participate in Boys State, an annual government instruction program sponsored by the American Legion, and Girls State, which is sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary.

The program is being held virtually this year, so Grant Biles and Kaden Kolle, students at Victoria East High School, have been pulling 12-hour days at the local American Legion Post, subsisting on Dairy Queen as they debate bills and attend hearings on their laptops.

All told, there are five boys from St. Joseph High School and two each from East and West participating this year. Another 17 students participated in Girls State, which wrapped up last week.

“It gives you an insight into our real political process,” said Kaden, 17, who was selected to be a state senator this week. “You have a lot of strong-willed individuals wanting to take over the conversation … We’re looking past partisan bias, past partisan issues and trying to tackle real issues that matter.”

Kaden said he’d discussed legislation pertaining to criminal justice reform, energy policy and education, but he was most proud of a bill he introduced to establish November as Veterans Month and May as Memorial May.

Kaden and Grant were selected to participate in Boys State following a recommendation from a counselor at their school and an interview with the American Legion.

Grant, 17, who was selected as a member of the House of Representatives, said he is serving on the agriculture committee, which has discussed bills regulating the cultivation of marijuana as well as the ostrich legislation, which he introduced, along with an accompanying proposal to import ostriches to Big Bend National Park.

“Some topics, we can be serious on, and some, we can joke around,” he said.

American Legion Post 166 sponsors the local participants each year, said Freddie Sauseda, the post’s Boys State chairman. This year, the post is funding the program through charity bingo proceeds.

“We need to invest in our youth,” Sauseda said. “This is one way we can do it.”

Mark Rosenberg reports on local, regional and breaking news for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at [email protected] or 361-574-1264 or on Twitter at @markrosenberg32. To support local journalism at the Advocate through Report for America, go to VictoriaAdvocate.com/report.