Girls with Goals introduce kids to life at the Capitol

The Colorado Statesman

Maybe there’s a future senator in the mix?

Thirty-five fifth-grade girls spent last Friday at the state Capitol, learning some of the ropes of being a state senator, writing bills, and observing second reading debates on bills about security scanners and license plates.

Josephine Henze, one of 35 girls participating in the “Girls with Goals Day” at the state Capitol on March 4, grimaces during a mock session of a committee hearing. She represented Bear Creek Elementary School in Sen. Rollie Heath’s district. One girl from each state senate district partici- pated in the memorable day at the Capitol to experience politics, Colorado style, during Women’s History Month. Colorado leads the nation in the percentage of women in the legislature at 41 percent.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Fort Collins, joyfully ends the mock session surrounded by his son, Dillon, and daughter, Madison.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Young senators Katie Frost from Highlands Ranch and Gillian Hardy of Florence observe a conversation on the floor between Senators Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, and Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Senator Angela Giron of Pueblo prepares to swear in Daijah Palma of Bessemer Academy.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Working together to develop a candidate are young senators (front row, from left) Alexandra Stoller of Peyton and Alexis Valenzuela of Denver, and (rear) Emma Staples of Denver, Evelynn de la Torre of Grand Junction, Kaela Fahrney of Avon, Jaelyn Randle of Aurora and Gillian Hardy of Florence.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Senator Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, and youth senator Jennifer Nguyen appear to find an affinity with each other.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Senator Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, hugs senator-for-the-day Corynne Pepper of Center after swearing her in.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Senator Senator Steve King, R-Grand Junction, bends to lend an ear to young Evelynn de la Torre.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Colorado Children’s Campaign President Chris Watney encourages the young senators.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Everyone wants a say in the mock session. Next to Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, are Sarah Burke of Silverthorne, Kelsey Achziger of Fort Collins and Sadie Caywood of Colorado Springs.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

The girls were at the Capitol for the first-ever “Girls with Goals Day,” a program set up by the Senate Majority Press Office staff. One girl was selected from a school in each senator’s district, approved by the principal and teacher of that school. According to Senate Majority office staffers, about 30 girls were selected by their senators; the last five were picked by the Senate Majority office if the senator did not make a choice.

The day began with a swearing-in ceremony, with most of the girls sworn in by the senator from their district. Then it was on to the Senate floor to lead the Pledge of Allegiance, and to sit next to their senators during much of the morning’s floor work.

Following lunch, the youth senators heard from former Justice Jean Dubofsky, the first woman to serve on the Colorado Supreme Court, and Chris Watney, president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

But the highlight of the day may have been when the youth senators got down to the business of legislating, in a mock session that featured committee discussion, amendments, and floor debate on three bills written by three of the youth senators. Each girl wrote a bill for consideration for the mock session, on subjects such as recycling, healthy snacks in school, kids and exercise, animal abuse, and reading.

Corynne Pepper goes to Sangre de Cristo Elementary in Hooper and was selected by Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village. Her bill dealt with animal abuse, and she said she wants to be a small-animal veterinarian when she grows up.

Xiomara Oseguera attends McGlone Elementary in Denver and was picked by Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver. Oseguera has another connection to the state Capitol: she is tutored in reading by former Sen. Regis Groff. During her time on the Senate floor, Oseguera got to see more than the debate at hand: Johnston explained lobbying and lobbyists to her and took her outside of the Senate chamber to meet and talk to some of the lobbyists.

Oseguera’s bill sounded vaguely familiar: an effort on granting citizenship and to “help immigrants get their papers so they can go to college.” Johnston is a primary co-sponsor of Senate Bill 126, which would allow undocumented immigrants to go to college on unsubsidized instate tuition rates. Oseguera explained her bill was more about citizenship, and required those who wanted to go to college to keep a job for two years, graduate from a Colorado high school and apply for citizenship. Those who commit crimes would lose their immigration papers, she explained.

Sen. Keith King’s junior senator, Caroline Mellow, attends Cheyenne Mountain Elementary, which is six blocks from King’s home. It’s also the school his sons attended, he told The Colorado Statesman.

The three bills chosen for debate were on a children’s history week in Colorado, community service at the elementary school level, and “trick or treat” for books that could be donated to public libraries. The three girls who came up with the bills were given Colorado flags that had flown over the Capitol.

Senate Bill 2, on children’s history week, was authored by Abigail Scott of Riverview Elementary in Senate District 6. In her initial draft of the bill Scott wrote, “It would help improve Colorado kids’ attitudes because it would celebrate children’s achievements and make them feel like they were just as important as adults in the world today.” 

Senate prez Brandon Shaffer announced that Scott’s idea would become a resolution sponsored in the Colorado Senate in the coming weeks. Her bill was assigned to the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, chaired that day by Johnston. At one point, Scott was asked how kids would be forced to participate. Scott responded that it should be left up to the schools to make that determination. “Sen. Scott favors local control,” Johnston pointed out, and that “will earn you votes on the floor,” he added, laughing.

At the conclusion of the day, College in Colorado announced that the girls were eligible for a $250 scholarship, to be awarded for the best essay.

Women already outnumber men in the Colorado Senate, 17 to 8; the addition of the 35 girls last Friday put the men at a better than 6-to-1 disadvantage.

— Marianne@ coloradostatesman.com

See the March 11 print edition for full photo feature.