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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, July 15, 2010
Local girls rule
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
ALBANY COUNTY Jane Pritchard of Voorheesville and Rachel Weston of Guilderland were recently chosen as leaders by over 380 girls from across New York State during a week-long Girls’ State session.
“When I got the call that Jane had been elected governor, I was bowled over,” said Kathryn Martin, the president of Albany County’s American Legion Auxiliary.
A long-time member of the Voorheesville unit, Martin has been instrumental for years in selecting girls for the annual event. The rising seniors must be in the upper third of their class, have high moral character, be physically fit, and be contributors to their communities.
Martin works as a teacher’s aid at Clayton A. Bouton High School and says she knows the students well. “Jane is a wonderful girl,” said Martin.
The Legion is trumpeting the news, congratulating Pritchard, on its large sign in the center of the village.
Martin was further impressed when she learned that Patricia Mudgett, her predecessor as county president, “picked the girl from Guilderland,” Rachel Weston. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Martin. “Holy Hannah!”
It is believed that this is the first time in the 73-year history of the state conventions that both the governor and lieutenant governor were from the same county. Girls’ State has been sponsored by American Legion auxiliaries across the country since 1937.
“It teaches girls all aspects of government,” said Martin. “In this day and age, with people not pledging the flag the way they used to, it’s important to understand how government works.”
The girls are assigned to parties in a mythic 51st state and run for statewide offices governor and lieutenant governor, chief justice, secretary of state, and attorney general. They meet in committees to draft bills and then in a large legislative session to adopt them.
This year, the conference was held at the State University of New York College at Brockport the week of June 28.
While both Pritchard and Weston said they learned much about government, they each, individually, said what they valued most from the experience were the other girls they met and the friendships they made.
Pritchard said it was wonderful to be part of “a focused, intelligent community of girls.”
“I think we’ll keep in touch for years to come,” she said of the friends she made.
Weston said she liked “spending time with girls from all over the state. They’re all so different,” she said, that it was almost as if they came from foreign countries.
“My roommate, as a child, was a crack baby,” she said. A couple that lived on a llama farm adopted the girl and she was “raised out in the middle of nowhere,” Weston said.
A lot of the girls came from small-town schools, she said. They saw Guilderland High School, with close to 500 students in a graduating class as “a huge school,” said Weston. “I hadn’t really appreciated the way I lived until then,” she said.
Weston and Pritchard did not know each other until they met at Girls’ State. They discovered they had friends and interests in common. Pritchard, who might be interested in pursuing a career in the medical field said, “My future is pretty open.” Weston, an athlete, plans to go into physical therapy.
Pritchard decided to run for governor, she said because she “wanted to make the best of it.”
“I was encouraged by Kathy Martin and by friends and family,” she said.
Martin, for her part, said that when she interviews candidates for Girls’ State, “I always kid the girls and ask, ‘Are you going to run for governor? What have you got to lose?’”
Pritchard took her at her word.
She said the run was a tough one and the race was close. She had to organize girls she didn’t know and make a lot of speeches.
“I was planning on laying low,” said Weston. But then her housemother was looking for someone to run who would be outgoing and wouldn’t be affected if she lost, so Weston stepped up.
“I said, ‘Sure, why not?’” she recalled. “It was thrilling.”
The experience taught her a lot, said Weston.
“It made me realize how hard it is to do the simplest things in government.” She went on, “It’s easy to point your finger at people in government, but, once you’re in office, you see how hard it is.”
She gave the example of a bill she helped draft, requiring two forms of identification such as a driver’s license and a credit card to purchase alcohol, in order to cut down on the use of fake IDs.
“We worked on it for hours in committee and thought it was such a great idea that the state should really adopt it,” said Weston.
Then, when the bill came up for discussion in the general legislative session, it was quickly shot down and Weston and her committee understood flaws they hadn’t seen before.
Although the experience hasn’t changed her career plans, Weston said she learned lessons she’ll keep for a lifetime.
“I’m not afraid to speak my mind anymore,” she said. “And I give a lot more credit to people in government.”