Anthony Cannella came walking up to Blaker Kinser Junior High School in Ceres earlier this month with a jacket on and coffee in his hand.
I was there to cover the state senator's visit to two social studies classes.
My mind went back to about 1976 when I was a student and then Congressman John J. McFall paid a visit to Oakdale High School. He was there to talk civics to us students. Being a political junkie - and still somewhat am - I was somewhat in awe that the House majority whip was in our presence.
I was mortified when some of my fellow classmates began rolling coins across the floor of the old gym toward the feet of the Manteca Democrat. The teacher could have died at such disrespect.
On another occasion my dad took me to an event where McFall was appearing — a talk in the basement of the Stanislaus County Library main branch in downtown Modesto. I felt privileged that we arrived at the same time as the congressman and rode the same elevator together.
Then there was the time I begged my parents to drive me to Fresno on Nov. 1, 1975 to see then President Gerald Ford who dropped in for an airport campaign rally for Rep. Bob Mathias. I was just 14 and could only see the president's head by standing on my tip toes. The president spoke and it upset me to see he was interrupted by farm laborers chanting in unison "bull sh—, bull sh—, bull —!" I remember how we scrambled up the media bleachers so we could have a better vantage point to watch Air Force One's takeoff from the Fresno runway.
On a rainy night 19 days later I bummed a ride with a neighbor lady to see U.S. Senator Sam Ervin of Watergate Committee fame speak at the MJC auditorium. After his speech I jumped on stage to get Ervin's autograph and a hand shake. Just two years earlier I watched him on TV take down a president.
When President Carter came to Merced and Modesto on July 4, 1980, I managed to see him at both locations. At the Merced Junior College gymnasium, I got to shake hands with the president, Mrs. Carter and former Gov. Pat Brown.
In May 1994, I got to shake the hand of Ronald Reagan who was showing the effects of Alzheimer's.
So as you can see, I've been politically interested for quite a while.
It doesn't seem that many kids today have that kind of political interest. They don't see politics and government as relevant. Cannella aptly stated that "we're wrestling with a lot issues that very much affect all of you."
At Blaker Kinser Cannella talked about politics — bravely saying that political campaigns often spread lies — and talked about how laws are made. There were few questions from students who seemed to not understand the difference between a U.S. senator and a state senator (one asked if Cannella had the power to declare war).
I happen to think American culture has it backwards. Kids know the names of music stars such as Nicki Minaj, Adam Levine, Taylor Swift or Katy Perry. Or they know the names of athletic heroes like Colin Kaepernick, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera or LeBron James. They can't even name the governor of the state. Few can name the vice president of the United States and hardly any kid can tell you who the secretary of state is or the speaker of the House. This lack of interest and/or ignorance translates to an ignorant and apathetic society. Don't believe me? Consider this. Stanislaus County has 525,491 residents. Approximately 27.6 percent are under the age of 18. That means 145,035 cannot register to vote. However, that means 380,456 can register to vote since they are 18 or older. But only 214,188, or 56.2 percent are registered to vote.
Local voter turnout continues to be pathetic. In last month's gubernatorial election, only 43.3 percent of registered voters bothered to vote. That's just 24.3 percent of persons of voting age who determined who would represent the rest.
In the June primary, only 26.43 percent of registered voters turned out.
On Nov. 5, 2013, just 22.96 percent turned out. Even when turnout is greatest, the presidential election, 67.39 percent turned out locally to vote in the Obama/Romney race.
Cannella urged kids to be interested and not be among those people he skipped over when walking precincts because he wouldn't waste time on people who never have voted.
Voting is the least citizens can do. The next step is volunteering, giving back rather than taking all the time.
"You're going to be affected so it'd be better for you to be a part of the system than be outside having things done to you," he said.
That really is the best kind of citizenship.
As I have said before, every voter should remain interested in government, take a position and be able to defend that position and be passionate about the direction of the city, county, state, country and world.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at firstname.lastname@example.org.