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Towson High senior honed views as legislative page in Annapolis

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In her two weeks as a senatorial page in Annapolis, Towson High senior Janie Brown used her access to the highest levels of state government to sharpen her own views, network with likeminded high school students — and settle a score with one of her representatives.

As a freshman at Towson High, Brown's class participated in a "Project Citizen," in which students identified problems in their local communities, determined ways to solve them, and pitched the proposals to a panel of judges including State Sen. Jim Brochin of Towson.

All these years later, Brown hasn't forgotten the results of her proposal to put in a speed bump near Ridgely Middle School.

"He gave me a C," Brown said. "So the first day I walked into the Senate I said, 'Senator Brochin, I have a bone to pick with you. You gave me a C freshman year. I've been really upset about it and I don't know why.' "

By the end of her two weeks in Annapolis, Brown walked away with something a bit more valuable than a high project grade—a letter of recommendation from her state senator.

"When I first came to the Senate, I was a grad school intern and when I saw the place, I fell in love with it. You want to be able to pass that on and foster and encourage that enthusiasm," Brochin said. "She seemed like she was really into it and enjoyed her experience."

Brown also impressed her senator when, during a floor discussion, Brown found a loophole in a bill passed that would prevent intoxicated people from sailing on the Chesapeake Bay. The loophole exempted operators of boats of a certain motor size and weight, Brochin said.

"I would never have known to pick it up in high school, let alone in college," Brochin said. "Sometimes, you just see someone you know is going to be successful and do what they want to do. She's one of those people."

Brown, who is in the Law and Public Policy magnet program at Towson, heard about the page program from her friend Lizzie Nance, who was last year's representative from Towson High.

She said she was selected from a pool of four applicants, and was excited to expose herself to another facet of government—she already participates in mock trials, mock congresses, and student government.

The biggest responsibility in Annapolis, she said, was while they prepared for the daily sessions to begin. Much of their time was spent putting amendments and bills into the bill books, and making sure plenty of coffee was available for the senators. During the session, they often distributed amendments to the senators to make sure everyone knew the current state of the bills they discussed.

But much of the value comes outside of the Senate chambers.

Towson High Principal Jane Barranger said she and the administration meets with Brown, the Student Government Association vice president, and the rest of the executive board each month. From those interactions alone, Barranger knew Brown would be able to absorb a lot from her time in Annapolis.

"I think that Janie has the unique ability to really listen, and then to make her decisions," Barranger said. "That, to me, is a really positive trait. She'll listen to everyone then form her opinion, and she's really able to state her position very articulately yet still be open to new ideas."

Brown said she was exposed to new ideas and viewpoints both from her fellow pages and on the Senate floor. During her first week in Annapolis, she sat in on half of a seven-hour long floor debate on the sweeping gun control legislation that ultimately passed.

"I've never been a gun person, so I don't really think about it very often, but that was one of the centerpieces of my first week," Brown said. "It forced me to think about it. I got to listen to both sides during the hearing, so it helped me come up with a viewpoint on some of the different issues.

"It helped me come into my political identity, so I think that'll help as I go forward into the real world — to know where I stand," Brown said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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