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BHS junior shines in first Capitol visit

ST. PAUL - Bemidji High School junior Travis Utley stood in a State Capitol complex office with House Minority Leader Marty Seifert and Minority Whip Denny McNamara Tuesday morning, discussing the bonding bill that had just been negotiated by legislative leaders.

"We were some of the first to know about it," Utley said with a proud grin later in the day. "That was a highlight of my day."

It was one of many for the 17-year-old, who was part of Bemidji Day at the Capitol, which brought about 100 people to St. Paul in support of Bemidji's community agenda. Many of the attendees were high school and college students.

"What a program this is, to be sending young people on a trip like this," said John Carlson, a Bemidji insurance agent who was teamed with Utley on legislative visits throughout the day. "Travis is unbelievable. I would take him as a son right now. I can see it all over his face ... about 20 years from now, the governor of the state of Minnesota. He just has such a poise about him."

It was a long, educational day for Utley, who boarded one of two buses at 6 in the morning at the Tourist Information Center and returned about 11 p.m. During one of his breaks in the early afternoon, he visited with Bemidji State University President Jon Quistgaard, inquiring about the president's legislative visits and asking about a fellow BHS student on Quistgaard's team. He also sat in on a House session and a committee meeting.

Utley took a lead role in one of his team's visits, with Jamie Yost, legislative aide to Sen. Julianne Ortman. He spoke about several Bemidji issues, including school transportation costs and all-day, everyday kindergarten.

"Seeing the Capitol from the inside is very uplifting," said Utley, whose only other views of the building were from the outside.

Utley says he has been interested in politics and government for several years. He is hoping to be nominated to attend West Point, and he is considering a major in business or political science.

"I just want to help people and be involved in the community," Utley said. "Being here today makes me more interested and more driven toward my goal. I think this is going to give me a reference point to look back on, to see what government really is all about."

Carlson said that is one of the benefits of Bemidji Day at the Capitol. While it's important to share the community's agenda with those who make state laws, he said, "We need to continue to find ways to support the young people of our community in programs like this. We have some very impressive students in Bemidji."