As 52 seventh graders from St. John Catholic School lined the perimeter of his conference room in the Washington State Capitol, Governor Jay Inslee was peppered with questions. One student asked, “What would you do if you were president?”
The Governor gave a very clear and thoughtful response: “I’d focus on our biggest possibilities and our biggest threats.” The biggest possibility? Education. As the Governor sees it, “education is the investment that will have the single biggest impact on our future.” The biggest threat? Climate change. The Governor explained how the environmental changes we are causing are a threat to our very existence. He went on to tell the group about his recent visit with some Puget Sound oyster farmers. The acidity of the Sound has doubled since pre-Industrial times, and it’s on track to do so again soon, threatening an entire ecosystem, from the oysters on up to Orca whales. His answer resonated with everybody in the room.
The St. John seventh graders’ visit with Governor Inslee was how they kicked off their four-day tour of Washington State this week.
Not all the Governor’s answers were as heavy as his discussion of education and climate change. His favorite part of the job? “Meeting with seventh graders.” Another thing he’d do as president? “Find a good National Security Advisor.” The Governor also discussed some of the 55 bills he was scheduled to sign into law today, including a law that tightens the rules about using mobile devices while driving.
Speaking of mobile devices, after a very inspirational Q&A session, a few students showed Governor Inslee the St. John Explorer app they have been populating in history class, which includes various places they plan to visit over the next several days. Upon hearing the group’s next stop is Yakima, the Governor suggested they check out the railroad bridge under which former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and hobo, William O. Douglas, used to hang out. He also suggested the students take a detour to St. John, Washington, birthplace of recently deceased Mike Lowry, the twentieth governor of Washington.
After collecting their St. John Explorer app points in the Governor’s office, the St. John seventh graders made their way to the Cherberg Building, where everybody received a civics lesson from Page School Teacher, Leo O’Leary. Here are few things we learned:
- Washington State has the only Supreme Court in the U.S. that is majority female (6 of 9 justices).
- Washington State has a “citizen legislature,” meaning most of our state representatives and senators have jobs outside of their legislative duties.
- Only the first and last lines of a bill are read out loud on the floor of the legislature (we assume our representatives read the rest).
- The lieutenant governor must first recognize a legislator (when they stand), before that legislator can speak on the floor of the legislature.
What’s interesting about this last legislative tradition is that our current Lieutenant Governor, Cyrus Habib, is blind. When he took office, a new system was put in place that alerts him, via Braille, that a legislator has requested to speak.
Based on their numerous questions, it was clear the St. John students were inspired after their day at the State Capitol. I’m sure more than a few will apply to be pages when they’re old enough (their interest level increased when they found out pages earn $35 dollars a day). For those who don’t become pages, Leo O’Leary listed several other options for students to get engaged in civic life before they are of voting age: write a letter to a legislator, volunteer to work on a campaign, or run for student government.
It was a great start to what I am sure is going to be quite an adventure across Washington State for these St. John Explorers.