Passion for politics fuels annual cross-country trek to mentor next generation 

July 20, 2023
Photo of Jonathan Fisher-Espinoza with California Boys and Girls State participants this year.
Jonathan Fisher-Espinoza (second from left) joins Boys and Girls State program participants in making a heart sign.

Government relations team member volunteers with California Boys and Girls State program, which he participated in himself while in high school

Every year, 1,000 rising high school juniors in California descend on the state’s capitol in Sacramento to participate in The American Legion’s California Boys and Girls State, a mock government program that helps students learn about the mechanics of American government and state politics.

Jonathan Fisher-Espinoza first participated in the program as a student delegate in 2011 while he was in high school in Santa Ana. He is based in Washington, D.C., now but has traveled back to Sacramento every year since 2015 to volunteer as a staffer during the seven-day program. 

“For me, it’s the inspiration to see the student’s creativity and breaking down the partisanship and divisiveness in real politics,” said Fisher-Espinoza, who serves on the U.S. Bank Federal Government Relations team and manages the bank’s nonpartisan Political Action Committee. “The program was super impactful when I was a delegate in 2011 and it made a huge impact in cementing my interest in government.”

Beyond serving as the U.S. Bank PAC director, Fisher-Espinoza is active in politics and civics in his personal time, engaging with and helping support a number of nonprofits, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute and the Hispanic 100. He said Boys and Girls State provides an opportunity to share that enthusiasm for civics with future leaders.

“It’s an opportunity to mentor the next generation. What we’ve learned, what we know, to be able to share the experience we have and to be a resource,” he said.

“For me, it’s the inspiration to see the student’s creativity and breaking down the partisanship and divisiveness in real politics."

Jonathan Fisher-Espinoza 

Established by the American Legion in 1935, almost every state in the nation has a Boys State and an American Legion Auxiliary Girls State. Elected leaders in the programs go on to participate in a mock federal government program in Washington, D.C., and get an opportunity to meet the President.

Notable alumni include President Bill Clinton and Vice President Dick Cheney; celebrities and athletes like Jon Bon Jovi and Michael Jordan; and five astronauts, including Neil Armstrong.

Designed to be apolitical, the program each year separates the students into two parties: the Federalists and the Whigs – Republicans and Democrats don’t exist in the program. The students create their own platforms, build an assembly and a senate, and eventually put forward a candidate for governor.

However, 2023 marked a new chapter for California’s Boys State. It was the first time the California Boys State program was coed, the result of legislation initially passed a few years ago by the students during the political simulation and then advocated for by students before California’s actual legislative body and became California law in 2021.

“A couple years ago, these kids brought up the issue of Boys and Girls State and why were there two separate programs,” said Fisher-Espinoza. Students believed the change was important because Boys State has traditionally been better-funded and has a bigger profile than Girls State.

This year, the students Fisher-Espinoza coached were prolific in the mock government exercise, with one student being elected governor and another party chair of the Whigs.

“I still stay in touch with a lot of my delegates. I enjoy those relationships and helping mentor and being able to offer that leadership development skill,” Fisher-Espinoza said.

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