Tar Heel Girls state

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Sarah Nagem
State and national political primary races have come to an end this election cycle, but primary stump speeches were in full swing at Tar Heel Girls State Wednesday night.
Promises of strong leadership and dedication, backed up by impressive credentials, resounded with the fictitious Nationalist Party.
About 280 rising seniors from across the state are spending a week at Catawba College to learn more about the workings of state government. This year marks the 69th anniversary of Girls State in North Carolina.
On Wednesday, two mock political parties ó the Nationalists and the Federalists ó elected gubernatorial candidates, who will face off in a general election. The parties also elected candidates for lieutenant governor, secretary of state and attorney general.
Two Rowan County natives ó Katye Beaver of the N.C. School of Science and Math and Jaimie Mullen of East Rowan High School ó vied for the governor’s spot to represent the Nationalist Party.
Neither won the nomination, but both girls said they were learning valuable lessons at Girls State.
“I came in here with an open mind,” said Beaver, who attended West Rowan High School for two years before transferring to the N.C. School of Science and Math.
So far this week, Beaver has learned how lobbyists push their agendas on lawmakers. She helped introduce a bill that would mandate high-occupancy vehicle lanes on all major highways in a mythical 51st state of the Union.
“I definitely want to get that bill passed,” Beaver said.
“It’s a great way to reduce carbon emissions. It’s a great way to fix a lot of problems.”
Those are the kinds of issues these teenagers are tackling this week. They split up into towns, where they elected officials. They are also meeting as a General Assembly, where bills pass or fail.
Mullen’s role in Pink City, as her town is called, was to write the city charter.
“Charter” is a term Mullen wasn’t familiar with until she got to Girls State.
“I didn’t know what a charter was,” she said.
But Mullen learned. Pink City, population 39, adopted, among other things, a city food (grilled cheese sandwich), a city tree (dogwood) and a city drink (Cheerwine).
The process was exciting to Mullen, who hadn’t planned on attending Girls State. In fact, she hadn’t even heard about Girls State.
Another student at East Rowan who had been scheduled to attend backed out, so the school staff asked her to go, Mullen said.
She’s glad she did.
Mullen is a self-proclaimed history buff who hasn’t taken much of an interest in government. But an AP government class is on her schedule next school year.
“So this should help a lot,” she said.
During her speech to her fellow Nationalists, Mullen said the party needed “someone who can take charge without dictating” and someone who has the “ability to be led.”
The speech wasn’t enough to win her the nomination, though. Kaley Rivera of Belmont will represent the Nationalists in the gubernatorial race, while Johana Sisk from Burlington will represent the Federalists.
Shaina Mortenson of Carson High School didn’t convince the Nationalist Party to nominate her for secretary of state. But Laurel Loeblein of Salisbury High School won the nomination to represent the Federalists in the general election of that race.
The students at Girls State are in the top third of their classes.
“You have to be a leader already and be interested in learning more about being a leader,” said Kaye Hirst, commission chair for the program.
All the girls won’t go on to have careers in politics and law, said Julie Cooper Head, program director.
Girls State is about more than that, she said.
“It teaches skills in patriotism, how to be an effective citizen,” Head said.
Elaine Marshall, N.C. Secretary of State, will speak at Girls State today.