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041118-adh-nws-Partick Spence-my

Patrick Spence

Mark Ylen Democrat-Herald

Patrick Spence isn't quite old enough to vote yet, but the 17-year-old is already getting statewide political experience.

Spence, a junior at West Albany High School, has been elected state governor for the Youth in Government program, a three-day mock government experience, including writing bills, that allows high school students to work in the Capitol, taking the part of lawmakers.

This year's program was held April 5-7 in Salem.

This was actually the second year Spence had campaigned for the top seat. As a sophomore he didn't get the votes, but figured maybe name recognition helped this time around.

Plenty of meet-and-greets also aided his cause. "I just worked really hard," Spence said. "I talked to everybody. I made my case personally."

Spence campaigned on a platform that calls for expanding the Youth in Government program by seeking out long-term funding sources from both the public and private sector to help subsidize student participation.

He also wants to expand participation by visiting parts of the state not currently represented in Youth in Government, sharing information about the program and finding out what's keeping schools from sending more representatives.

He'll have plenty of traveling to do: The program hasn't spread much beyond the Willamette Valley. "I just don't think a lot of people know about it," he said.

Sponsored nationally by the YMCA, Youth and Government has been around since 1947. West Albany High School is particularly active: 2015 West graduate Ben Delsman served as governor his senior year, and Abby Wooton, a senior this year, won the Speaker of the House position at this year's program.

Spence has long been interested in politics and joined a model United Nations when he first came to high school. When he learned about Youth in Government, he joined it, too. 

He hasn't mapped out a firm career plan but figures he'd like to participate in government at some level, so he'll likely study political science, economics, law or a related field.

He'll actually take the position next April, seated in Kate Brown's chair in Salem — "I get the governor's office for three days, which is crazy," he said — and will work from there to get more people involved.

"It's hard to convince people, because it's not something that seems super engaging to everybody," he said, "but I really think it's an interesting opportunity to meet a lot of people who really care about their community and want to make a difference." 

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