First Independent governor at Girls State

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 17, 2011

By Robin M. Perry
For the Salisbury Post
SALISBURY — History was made Friday on the Catawba College campus when 240 Tar Heel Girls State citizens held their election for governor — and a high school junior from Shawboro won on a third party, Independent ticket.
Kaye Brown Hirst, chair, said in her 24 years on the scene of Tar Heel Girls State she has never seen a third party win the election. “I never heard of it,” she said.
Rebeka Johnson, from Currituck High School was elected governor, the highest office, after some last- minute meetings and reviewing of the constitution to ensure a third party candidate was eligible.
Tar Heel Girls State is a weeklong event where students create their own state with local governments, city charters, legislature, parliamentary procedure and political parties, usually the Nationalist and Federalist.
The Independent party was formed by a group of girls who did not totally agree with the Nationalists or Federalists.
“We kinda joked about forming a third party,” Johnson said. Then they got serious and talked to the commissioners, who said it was too late to run on an Independent ticket. But the girls did not give up. They went back to the constitution, where they found in the very last paragraph that they had until 10:30 Thursday night to do so. They went through all the steps, getting signatures and stating platforms to be able to vote Friday with Johnson as their candidate. “In a short time, we learned so much and realized anything is possible,” she said.
“The purpose of Tar Heel Girls State is to provide citizenship training for rising senior high school girls; to afford them an opportunity to live together as self-governing citizens; and to inform them about the duties, privileges, rights and responsibilities of American citizenship in order that they may better understand and participate in the functioning of their government,” the organization’s website says.
Since last Sunday, these top students participated in a non-partisan atmosphere, taking a “hands-on” approach to learning how state and local governments function. They developed an understanding of the responsibilities of creating and living under their own mock government.
Applications go to high schools through American Legion Auxiliaries, which select the top rising seniors throughout the state. This is the 72nd consecutive year of Tar Heel Girl’s State, the longest in the nation.
It is the 10th year Catawba College has hosted the event. “Catawba is a wonderful host and we feel very much at home here,” said Julie Cooper Head from Valdese. She first attended in 1988 when she was a rising senior at East Burke High School and has worked her way up the ranks of staffing, serving as program director for 14 years.
Marsha Voelker, a faculty member of the University of Missouri at Kansas City, attended when she was a student at North Mecklenburg High in 1989 and has come back every year since as a staff volunteer. “I drive 16 hours to get here and like to come back to provide the same great experience to future leaders that I got,” she said.
Abby Kaufmann of Cary was selected Speaker of the House. “I didn’t think this was the way I wanted to spend my first week of summer vacation,” she said, “but this was way worth it.”
Jan Sitterson, a rising junior from Carson High School is a member of the Junior Auxiliary of Faith, Unit 327, which nominated her to attend. “It is good to have the knowledge of parliamentary procedure and how government works if you are going to be voting someday,” she said.
Closing ceremonies will be today.After the election, Rebeka was asked if she called her mom to tell her the news. “She didn’t even know I was running,” she admitted. “I didn’t even know I was running until late last night.”
All agreed it has been an awesome experience.