Mason: tomorrow's leader todayOpportunities abound at Girls State.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:51 PM
"On the inside cover of her program from the Evergreen Girls State seminar in government Brittain Mason penciled: Evergreen State is: Don't know what you're doing, and then you go do it. The scrawl may capture the essence of the EGS, a program that teaches young women about government in a hands-on seminar.Now I know more about issues like I-695 and energy, Mason said. I learned that it would be a fun job being a senator, but it would be hard to listen to everyone's opinion and it's a very long process getting things done. Earlier this month, Mason and several hundred young women - high school juniors from Washington State nominated by their teachers and screened in a rigorous interview process - convened at the Central Washington University campus in Ellensburg to better understand government by forming a mythical 51st state.Divided into two political parties, the federalists and the nationalists, whose platforms they later constructed, the EGS participants became county commissioners, senators and judges. They ran for office, passed bills, made laws and solved real-life state problems.The dorms of this year's site formed the basis for the cities and counties the young women governed. Mason was a nationalist assigned to the city of Hartley, in the county of Lowrey.It's like practice for college, living in a dorm for a week, Mason said. When I first got there, all I could think was, 'I hope I get a good roommate.'Mason didn't have much time for worry, however, since the EGS program thrust participants into a whirlwind of activity that lasted from 6 a.m. to midnight every day.During the first part of the week, they took an exam in parliamentary procedure and a bar exam to qualify for judicial posts, ran for office and heard speakers.After several days spent campaigning, the EGS participants settled down to the business of governing.The counties and cities were assigned problems to solve, based on real state issues.Mason's city was assigned a fruit surplus to dispense with. The solutions the group proposed, according to Mason, were restricting imports and a pro-fruit ad campaign.As chair of the energy and utilities committee, Mason was also responsible for sponsoring a bill. Mason's proposed legislation, which sought to restrict business lighting during non-business hours, passed the rules committee but died in the house.Our bill was serious, but we had fun with some of them, she said. For instance, we passed a bill that said that the 'official food' of Girls State was gummi bears. Mason learned that the agendas of eastern and western Washington were quite different. She even encountered legislative gridlock.We were going to try to repeal I-695, Mason said, but everyone has different opinions about everything. It depends totally where you live.The Eastern Washington contingent drafted a bill to divide the state in two, Mason recounted, but then realized they couldn't afford to split from the west. In Eastern Washington, they're into farming, and they don't care about things like the ferries, Mason said. To get anything done you have to consider the other point of view.First convened in 1947, EGS is the Washington branch of a national program of the American Legion Auxiliary, which runs a similar program for young men in 49 states. The illustrious list of Evergreen graduates includes Bill Gates and Bill Clinton, Elizabeth Dole, Jean Kirkpatrick and Hilary Rodham Clinton. According to EGS officials, 20 percent of the current crop of national senators attended an American Legion state program.Even though the timing of EGS was awkward for the eight Bainbridge High School delegates, who were just heading into finals when the program started, Mason would recommend the seminar to others. Even though it did mess up my grades, she said, I would totally tell them to go for it.The downside?Just when you're starting to get to know everyone, you have to leave, Mason said.Now I have all these new friends, but they live over the mountains, too far away. "