My day began at 6:30 a.m. As I buttoned up my dress shirt, I could not help but look into the mirror and imagine this being my everyday routine in 10 years or so. It has been my absolute dream to be in public office. Now, it seemed this opportunity would help me along to my goal. By 7:30 a.m., my dad and I were in Indianapolis, heading towards the Statehouse. I am paging for Rep. Woody Burton.
After navigating the government buildings, we found the entrance I was scheduled to enter. Waiting inside the doorway was the security checkpoint. The officer working it did not seem to be in the best mood and made extra sure that we knew to remove our jackets as we went through the detector.
After some more navigation through a building that seemed to have randomized room numbers, I found the room for House pages. I came into the program expecting to be the only person if not a couple of other people, but waiting outside the room were at least 30 people. Each one had parents straighten their ties or fixing their dresses. I was under-dressed. My dad and I had bought khakis and a collared shirt the night before, but every single guy there was in a suit and tie. I dressed for Sunday school while these guys dressed for Congress.
We were greeted by an older woman named Carla, who much like the security officer, did not have time for nonsense. She directed all of the kids into a room and had the parents leave. They handed us our name tags and a paper titled “Ice Breakers.” The page room was much like a small classroom. No windows, only bleach-white fluorescent lights. The back wall was covered in various signatures, dates and colors. I assumed they were marks left by the previous pages.
The sheet of paper I was given was arranged like a bingo board. In each box was a question like “Are you an only child?” “Do you want to be a politician when you grow up?” and “Have you been to another country?”
I sat down and sitting next to me was a young man who was already getting familiar with everyone sitting around him.
He turned to me, “Mason Charlton, pleased to meet you.” He held out his hand. I was amused by how professional he was. “Eric Reingardt” I replied and shook his hand. We got to talking, and he introduced me to the people he just met as if they were his old pals. Soon after when everyone signed in, we were told to get to know one another using the “Ice Breaker” sheet. I met a lot of people from all over the state, but one I remember in particular was Murphy. Murphy was really shy but I was still getting him to fill out my sheet. Another one was a guy that resembled Donald Trump Jr.
Afterward, the staff introduced themselves, and gave a brief run-down of the day’s schedule, and the first thing on the agenda was a tour of the capitol building.
There was an underground carpeted tunnel that lead to the Statehouse. During the tour, we got to see the great halls of the main building, the House of Representatives chamber and Senate chamber, and we got to sit in the congressmen’s chairs. We also got to see the Indiana Supreme Court courtroom. At the center of the building was a beautiful atrium where the Indiana constitution was displayed. Surrounding the area were statues each representing the virtues of Indiana like “Law”, “Justice” and “Commerce”
After the tour, all the pages came back to the classroom. We had about a half hour to burn before lunch. The activity that won the vote was for us to get into a circle and have a political discussion.
There were so many different beliefs and backgrounds. One girl was particularly passionate about the living conditions for the detainees at the border, while a young man was explaining why he felt the border wall was the best course of action. There were probably three people at that debate who did 80 percent of the talking.
Then the topic moved to the drug crisis. It was interesting to see all the different opinions among people I had become friends with. I was surprised to see Murphy was not afraid to give his two cents on the issues with the border, and Mason offered the conservative approach of handling illegal immigration. But as usual, no one’s mind changed.
Mason and I went to the cafeteria for lunch together which gave us a chance to talk about our futures. Mason’s dad had started an orthopedic company about five years ago; he has family connections to many famous U.S. statesmen and had written several letters to famous foreign dignitaries, like Putin and Queen Elizabeth. All of them replied. He told me about his plans to be a page in Washington, which was a paying job. After adding each other on Snapchat we wandered the great halls and rooms of the government buildings, nearly getting lost if it were not for the hand-made map a maintenance worker drew out for us.
By now it was Noon and everyone was told to meet back in the room to get ready for session. Approximately 20 minutes before session, all kinds of journalists, activists, lobbyists, interns, and lawyers. were talking and meeting on the floor with the congressmen. One thing I noticed was that every single congressman was charismatic and extroverted. They could not go five minutes without shaking someone’s hand and engaging in a conversation.
They had all the pages sit on benches that flanked the sides of the chamber. When space ran out, I had the privilege of standing by the trashcans at the back of the room.
One by one my fellow pages were getting picked up by their congressmen, meeting and talking with them. I looked up and down the chamber, searching all those faces, but Mr. Burton was nowhere to be seen.
After all of the congressmen settled in their seats, the speaker began the session with the strike of his gavel.
Showing up about five minutes late was the man of the hour, Woody Burton. Earlier all of the pages and representatives had their pictures taken at the speaker’s podium, but we had to take ours’ in the hallway.
Despite the congressmen’s tardiness, we had the best conversation. Woody went over my application and told me about his past, why he is a congressman and his beliefs on many subjects. One thing he said that stuck with me was “I don’t believe in hand-outs; I believe in hand-ups.” He explained that to fight poverty and help people, you need to give them the tools to help themselves. I could not have agreed more.
And we had this great conversation while session was going on. He had to get back to his seat and we parted ways. The word I would use to best describe Rep. Woody Burton is, “friendly.” He was the kindest guy.
I witnessed the political process first-hand and listened closely as different congressmen went over bills like, “Virtual Education” and an app that could alert all law enforcement at the tap of a button in the event of an active shooting.
I left the statehouse that afternoon with a certificate experience, and an even stronger love of the political life.