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Students earn their political chops

RED WING — Alex Streff has handled a whirlwind of experiences so well that his peers recently voted him "Most Likely To Be President of the United States" in the 2011-12 Red Wing High School yearbook.

Streff's last few months at the school have made him uniquely qualified for the label.

When the "Wangster Day" lawsuit was filed in July 2011 against the Red Wing School District alleging a violation of a 2009 grad's civil rights, Streff responded almost immediately. His interviews supporting school officials were prominently featured by various TV stations in a story that made national headlines. He also started a Facebook group to advocate for their defense, which has been "liked" 742 times.

But that was just a small taste of the exposure he received last week.

Streff served as governor during last week's four-day assembly at the state Capitol as part of the Minnesota YMCA Youth In Government program. He was elected by his peers at the same event last year and spent the next 11 months being trained for the office. The well-spoken youth finally was sworn in by a member of the Minnesota Supreme Court and delivered three speeches before the entire state delegation, which included 102 peers from Red Wing.


Though political parties are not a part of the YIG scene, Steff's office was run on a conservative platform that often clashed with his colleagues in the House and Senate. He was explicitly pro-life and listened to debate on abortion, legalizing marijuana, gay rights and other hot-button issues.

Ultimately, he signed 22 bills and vetoed 15 others while using Gov. Mark Dayton's reception room. However, vetoing is rarely done in YIG, so it created some tense moments. Six of Streff's vetoes ended up being subjected to overrides, while four other override attempts failed.

"He was a little frustrated with it, but it was a good opportunity to realize what it's really like," said Josh Thygesen, Red Wing's Youth In Government director. "He had a platform that he stuck to, so kudos to him. I think he really showed a lot of maturity."

Added Streff: "We were excited just how real the experience felt. In the past, a governor hasn't really used the veto power. It was cool to see people so passionate about things they believe in, but it was a sobering experience."

While Streff's college application essays have focused on his YIG involvement — he's been accepted at Notre Dame, but is still weighing his options — he wasn't the only one to enjoy expanded responsibilities last week at the state capitol. Classmates Ruby Buck and Lars Lidahl also enjoyed some time in the spotlight.

Buck oversaw 45 of her peers as the Lobbyist Executive Director. She organized one event in which the entire contingent greeted Streff on the capitol steps to lobby their viewpoints for the controversial issues, forcing Streff to wade his way to the door.

Lidahl was elected as radio manager and coordinated a staff of 24. His work was aired early in the morning and late at night, while being broadcast on two different TV channels in the delegates' hotel to preview and review the activities of the day.

Those three elected positions are the most power Red Wing's contingent has ever held at the Youth In Government program, which was created in 1936. Eight seniors graduate this year — including Streff, Buck and Lidahl — and Thygesen says they will be hard to replace; none from Red Wing were voted into a leadership role for next year, as four campaigns fell short.


"I'm glad the kids are running for those positions and putting themselves out there," Thygesen said. "They're learning a ton about the process … (but) this is the best group we've had due, in large part, to the leadership of those seniors."

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