By Kimberly Ouellette

Lewiston Middle School

When the legislature is in session, the Maine State house is busy and booming with action. On March 18th, myself, and nearly 100 other middle and high school aged girls were able to see, first hand, what a helter-skelter the state house can be. We were invited to attend A Girl’s Day at the State House 2004, This program, put on by the Maine Women’s Policy Center, was geared to give young girls an idea of what an active role in the Legislature was like. It emphasized the need for Fe- male representatives , senators and other major roles that could make an impact on the government.

Arrival at the state house was busy. We were put into small groups for the day. They provided us with a delicious breakfast and some ice breaker activities to get to know some of the other girls in our group. After we ate, we all marched to the main part of the state house. It was bustling with people, food, art work and live music. Out side of the Governor’s office, we saw pictures of some famous women who made an impact on our countries history. Some of them were people who lived right here in Maine, like Margaret Chase Smith. They explained to us that she was the first women in the U.S to serve in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

We soon filed into the Governor’s Cabinet office, where we waited for our meeting with Governor Baldacci. When he arrived, we were given an explanation of the art work that was held in his office. We were able to view the most valuable picture in the Maine archives, a scenic view of the rocky coast. He said that al of the furniture was handcrafted in the state of Maine, Baldacci also gave us words of wisdom about how great it is to grow up in a small state like Maine. He told us that we could accomplish anything we wanted to because the opportunities here were far greater than most places. On our way out, we all shook hands with the governor. On the large staircase in front the governor’s of office, we posed for a picture with Baldacci,

After meeting the governor, we trudged all the way to the chamber of the House of Representatives. There, we learned how to page. At first, paging can be frightening. It’s sometimes hard to find the correct legislator to deliver a message to. It’s also tempting not to read the massage your delivering. After a while though, its exciting and fast paced. Hearing the bills being passed or killed is interesting.

The people have to talk so quickly! As much fun as it was to page, eventually, we had to leave.

A few moments later, we found ourselves in a small room where we were about to have a mock public hearing. The administrators taught us the steps, and the guidelines of a public hearing. We were given a prepared bill to debate. Half of the group were proponents, in other words they supported the bill, and the other half were opponents. The bill we were given was supposed to allow children with chronic diseases, Le. asthma, allergies and diabetes, to carry medication on their persons at school. Our job was to provide the girls who were role playing senators with information on why we did or did not support the bill. With the administrators walking us through the procedures, we were able to give a debating session, in which the public is allowed to attend and give their opinion, and a work session where just the mock legislators were allowed to talk amongst themselves to alter the bill. We eventually came to the conclusion to pass the bill with some changes. Of course this bill will not actually become a legal bill, but it was interesting to see how a bill is formed and sent through the different committees to be worked on.

At lunch we were able to sit and chat with all of our new acquaintances, before we had to leave each other and shadow the representative from our towns or districts. Another girl from LMS and my self were shadowing Rep. Walcott from Lewiston. We were able to ask him some questions about the details about his job. I was able to get a better idea of what sorts of this the legislature actually had territory over, that is what issues in our town were state matters and what issues were town matters. I also discovered that Rep, Walcott was a member on the Health and Human Services Committee. He told us that different Senators and representatives were split into different committees to specialize in. This is so when a bill reaches it’s way into congress, they can do more work to it in a committee instead of having all 156 members of the house work on. It is a more efficient way of fine tuning proposals sent to them. I was privileged enough to be able to witness the Health and Human Services Committee in action. They were working on a proposed budget plan. Unfortunately, after the discussion started to get interesting, we had to leave. Rep, Walcott said goodbye to us and we made our all the way back to the House chamber for a meeting with Speaker Cowell, speaker of the house and The Senate majority leader, Sharon Angling Treat. They lectured us on how great it was to see Maine’s future female leaders in front of them. In senator Treats portion of the session, she exclaimed (I really do think it’s important to have women in the Legislature.”) She was also heard saying (I encourage you to run gfor the legislature, so we can see faces like yours in the future.”) Speaker Colwell stated in his portion,” ‘It’s so great to see so many young women here, more importantly, our future leaders.’ “we’ve seen a great change in the past 30 years in the amount of women herein the senate and House of representatives, but we still have a long way to go.'” It was interesting to find out that Maine has it’s first women president of the Senate-Beverly Dagget.

Girl’s Day at the State house was enjoyable and moving. I know much more about how things function at the statehouse. I met some new friends who I swapped e-mails with and gained valuable knowledge in case I ever wanted to go into politics or government. If I had the opportunity to go again I would. So I encourage you, If you get the chance to go next year or in years to come, to do it. You can learn so much about what it is to be a woman and still be able to have a say in important issues.

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