Published: Thursday, July 19, 2012 at 4:18 p.m.
St. Vincent High School senior Ryan Chojnacki received an up close and personal look at how California state government works this spring, and came away with some definite opinions on how it should work.
Chojnacki was a participant in the 75th Session of the American Legion California Boys State held on the campus of California State University, Sacramento.
Part of the experience included a visit to the State Capitol where he met with other members of the Boys State executive administration in an office used by Gov. Jerry Brown to confer with members of his administration.
“We didn’t get to meet Gov. Brown. I was a little disappointed,” Chojnacki said. “But he is a busy man.”
The Petaluma teen served as Secretary of State, an important, but somewhat boring, job that was mostly paperwork.
“I was more of a record keeper,” he explained. “I had to sign all the bills and keep all the files. I still have all the legislation and files.”
He said the experience was educational.
“It was definitely an eye opener,” he said. “It gave me a broader perspective on government, and I had an opportunity to meet with a lot of different people.
“There were students from all over California, from way in the north to San Diego and every where in between.”
In addition to serving as Secretary of State, Chojnacki wrote for the Boys State newspaper and even set up his own forum for discussion among the Boys State participants. “Working for the newspaper got me interested in journalism,” he said.
He noted that the participants, all entering their senior year in high school, had to deal with the same problems as the “real” legislators and state government officials.
He said the students brought different political philosophies to the session.
“One of my roommates was extremely conservative,” he said. “The liberal students were more focused on social issues and more sports oriented. The conservatives were more concerned about education. Everybody had an opinion.”
“The state is in a lot of money trouble,” Chojnacki said, “but the students were more concerned with education.”
Although the Boys State experience gave Chojnacki an appreciation for government and peaked his interest in journalism, he isn’t likely to pursue either as a career path.
“I’m not sure what I want to do with my life,” he said. “I’m hoping to get into some kind of engineering.”
After his final year at St. Vincent, he hopes to attend Notre Dame University.
Chojnacki observed that the students had a better chance of solving the state’s problems than the politicians.
“One of the things we discussed was the government process,” he said. “We talked about lobbying, putting earmarks on bills and campaign contributions.
“We were able to focus on the issues without having to deal with the lobbyists and business and special interests offering to stuff our campaign coffers.”
He noted that those interest groups prevent the elected legislators from dealing with the state’s problems. “They are not focusing on the issues, they are just trying to get by,” he noted.