By Winonna Saari Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — Down the long stretch of marble hallway in the O’Brien Building at the Capitol Campus is Room 105, where Kaylee Rule waited last week, wearing the gray blazer of the House page program.
Kaylee, 15, toiled over a 500-piece puzzle with the other pages, waiting for a call from her boss, Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, who might send her on a task, delivering papers or messages to other lawmakers.
“I never knew how much a telephone ring meant to me until I came here,” said Kaylee, a 10th-grader at Monroe High School.
She is one of dozens of high school students who spend weeklong stays in Olympia working for lawmakers, getting resume-building experience and peeking into the inner workings of state government. Like many pages, Kaylee knew her representative before she decided to apply for the program.
“My Rep. Kirk Pearson grew up with my mom and my uncle. He came to my grandfather’s 80th birthday and told me about the paging program. I thought, it’s a different experience and I might as well see what I can get from it. It will be fun,” said Kylee.
The page program has been an institution in Olympia and other state capitals for decades. The age of texts and emails have taken away some of the responsibilities of pages — the U.S. House did away with its page program last year because of the cost and lack of work for the pages.
In Olympia, pages are kept busy attending hearings, hand-delivering notes to members from lobbyists and people visiting the Capitol, and getting pitchers of water and coffee ready for lawmakers in their caucus lounges.
The kids who participate in the program say it helps them understand state government — even if the waiting wears thin.
“My mom is a history teacher, and she said you should do this because you can learn about the government. The toughest part of this job is waiting,” said Annika Riisa, a teenager from Freeland who was working for Rep. Steve Tharinger, a Democrat from Grays Harbor County.
Besides experience, pages also get a $35 a day for the work. The page program for the House cost about $190,000 for this year and next. And the Senate program has budgeted about the same.
For the most part, pages stay with host families during their week in Olympia. Pages arrive on Sunday for orientation. For example, pages learn that they cannot walk onto the floor of the House or Senate chambers when someone is talking. Another rule: Always take the stairs — although they’re allowed to take the elevator if they need to go to the fourth floor. House pages wear gray blazers and Senate pages wear red.
By Monday morning — a typical day beings about 7:15 a.m. and ends around 5 p.m. — they are thrown into a job that is confusing, at first, with so many buildings on the campus. To get them familiar with their new environment, page supervisor Patty Riley sends her charges on a scavenger hunt throughout the campus.
“I’m learning how the government works and how confusing the buildings are laid out. Usually they give you ample instructions,” said Ian Kemp, who lives in West Richland and is sponsored by Rep. Larry Haler, R-Benton County.
During down times, pages hang out in Room 105, doing homework — they’re responsible for school while in the program — and playing card games, doing puzzles and watching movies.
During the week, pages also spend two hours a day at what is called “page school” — a kind of hyper civics course. During these sessions, Kaylee and her newfound friends acted out the roles of lawmakers proposing bills. She learned firsthand how the process of turning a bill into law works.
Kaylee particularly liked one idea in these sessions, about forcing convicted drunken drivers to display brightly colored pink-and-yellow license plates.
And she said she enjoyed the whole weeklong session.
“I learned a lot of new things and met some really cool nice people,” Kaylee said.
High school students interested in the page program for 2013 can learn more online.
To apply for the House page program: www.leg.wa.gov/House/Pages/HousePageProgram.aspx.
To apply for the Senate page program: www.leg.wa.gov/Senate/Administration/PageProgram/Pages/default.aspx.