Drew Baltzell of Haines and Harley Williams of Klukwan were among 28 participants at the 44th annual American Legion Alaska Boys State event, held at the Meier Lake Convention Center in Wasilla last month.

The program, open to high school juniors, establishes a mythical “51st state” where participants establish their own governments, choose elected officials and debate bills in a mock legislature.

Williams said he learned the difficulties of politics and compromises leaders must make to be effective. Williams’ bill was to get more funding for rural education in Alaska. Baltzell authored a bill that would prohibit texting while driving.

“They were showing us how it works instead of reading it from a book. It made more sense” than when he studied government at school, Baltzell said.

American Legion member Bob Lix said the intensive, hands-on program offers youths hands-on training for state government. The local Legion post tries to send two youths a year, paying for transportation and the $300 registration.

Williams said the highlight was meeting new people and getting to listen to many speakers, including the Mayor of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and the brother of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.