Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 23, 2018

Three area girls reflect on their time at Girls State Conference

Girls run the world
Jul 12, 2018

By Gretchen Teske, Golden Triangle News Service


Three Washington High School juniors now know what it takes to make it in government. Or, they know some of it.

Gwendolyn Flannery, Peyton Cuddeback and Karmen Knipfer all attended the Girls State conference at Drake University June 17-22. Over the course of the week, they met over 300 girls from across the state and together they created their own region with policies and practices specifically unique to them.

“I thought it sounded like a really good experience and I wanted to attend,” said Peyton Cuddeback, one of the three young women from Washington chosen to attend. “I thought it was really cool that they had this whole conference based around the voting process.”

Cuddeback was contacted by the American Legion who sponsors the event. Each year girls are chosen to attend an event in their state where they receive firsthand experience in governmental matters. Upon arrival, the girls are randomly split into two separate parties then into seven individual cities. From there, they are informed about the political positions available, which range from mayor to members of the house or senate. The girls make speeches and pass bills as active government officials would as the experience offers them the chance to try their hand at politics on a smaller scale.

Gwen Flannery was hesitant to attend her first conference but was glad she did. “It was so unknown to me and I wasn’t told what was going to happen really,” she said. “They gave us a little bit of information and they told me it was a week long, but I didn’t know what was going on.” She says she soon found out what was happening and was glad she went. “I was so surprised and by the first night, it was just a new home for me,” she said.

The campus of Drake University is used to host and house the participants. They roomed with other individuals from their respective cities. The opportunity is designed to allow the girls to learn to work together and have time to brainstorm and make new relationships.

Flannery said an average day began with breakfast at 8 a.m. and ended around 11 p.m. “At the beginning of the week they gave us a book with our agenda for each day and it looked like it wasn’t going to stop,” she said. “(But) it wasn’t continuous stuff throughout the day, there was time to relax throughout the week.”

During her stay, Flannery was elected to the House of Representatives and worked to pass legislation about recycling and the legalization of cannabis products. She said they were all encouraged to choose topics that were relevant and find a way to work together and create successful policies. “It gave us a point in time to think about how it would work in an actual state,” she said. “It gave us the power to change and make a better future.”

Before the conference, she said her knowledge about government was minimal but now her insight, as well as interest, has grown. “It gave everyone a view point of what actually happens in our state or city or county that none of us knew before,” she said.

Peyton Cuddeback attended her first Iowa caucuses with her dad when she was in fifth-grade. Since then, her interest in government and policies has grown. “That sparked my interest and I really wanted to learn more,” she said.

Cuddeback was also elected to the House of Representatives and worked on legislation relevant to agriculture, something close to her heart as she’s grown up on the family farm. “I’ve grown up around these things and just experienced how some of these concerns within society effect us,” she said.

Although she has no plans for a career in government, she says her week at Girls State gave her a unique, hands-on experience she cold not have gotten anywhere else. “I think it was really good to learn,” she said. “It was up close and personal. To see how it works and to have it explained to us, exactly what happens, so we can do that ourselves, was an amazing experience,” she said.

Karmen Knipfer had never heard of Girls State when she got the phone call but decided to take a leap of faith and see what the conference was all about. “I’m a person of color,” she said. “And people of color aren’t given an opportunity to be in the government and so it kind of has that barrier.” This served as her motivation to try something new and see a new perspective.

Knipfer was placed in a different city than her fellow Washington participants, but being the youngest of 12 children, she is no stranger to making new friends. She quickly found her way and decided to run for Election official and city health inspector. She found the two worked well with her love of numbers and activism in the mental health community in Washington. She was not elected but was appointed to the House of Representatives instead. There, she worked on two bills which covered legalizing marijuana and an increased nicotine tax. The tax would fund a health class for the schools of their city.

Like her fellows, she has no interest in pursuing a career in government but says the skills she learned are ones she can take with her no matter which path in life she chooses.

“I definetly learned a lot of leadership skills,” she said. “You not only have to take your stuff out and do your speaking, but you have to work with your city.” She credits the conference with helping her learn more about how the government works and how legislation is passed. One of her favorite parts was their visit to the capitol and the judicial building which gave then the chance to speak to two attorneys. “Even if you’re not going into government, you still got a better understanding of how that works,” she said. “Maybe you are very shy and don’t do anything but you still got out of your comfort zone to run for something and you still got that experience.”

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