Crozet Has Two Pages Serving in the General Assembly

Isabel Brown and Owen Thacker
Isabel Brown and Owen Thacker

For the first time since former Fifth District Congressman Tom Perriello of Ivy had the job in 1988, two Henley Middle School students are serving as pages in the 2015 session of the Virginia General Assembly. Owen Thacker and Isabel Brown, both eighth graders from Crozet, have been first-hand observers and helpers in the legislature, Brown in the Senate and Thacker in the House of Delegates.

“I like civics,” said Brown. “In school you learn about laws, but I wanted an experience where I could see it happen.”

“My sister went to The Village School and one of her friends did it,” said Thacker to explain how he got interested. “They made it sound like a lot of fun and it is.”

To be eligible, a page must be in grade seven through nine. A page may only serve one year, but two veteran pages, typically tenth graders, are chosen to come back and serve as mentors. The senate has 42 pages and the House has 41, said Thacker.

Pages sit on benches on the back wall of the legislative halls and typically their job is to run errands for representatives, who usually do not leave the room while the Assembly is in session.  The Virginia General Assembly is the oldest continuous legislative body in the U.S. This year is a “short session,” which meets for 45 days. In the alternating long session, the Assembly meets for 60 days and drafts a two-year budget for state government.

“We carry messages, lunches, whatever,” said Brown. Most of their trips are between the Capitol building and the General Assembly’s office building nearby where the representatives’ staffs have offices. “We all do the same jobs,” she said.

Pages are not allowed to have cell phones with them while they are at work.

Pages are on duty from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and are allowed to go home for 48 hours on weekends. They live in the Omni hotel in Richmond (at the expense of the General Assembly) under supervision by chaperones and they are paid a salary. They are not allowed to be absent.

While they are gone from their schools, pages go to a mandatory study hall, (monitored by teachers from the Richmond area) at the hotel for two hours every evening where they keep up with school assignments, which their families and schools are responsible for providing. Applicants are expected to have discussed this requirement with their school officials before they apply to be pages. Pages are admonished to always have a book to read when they come to study hall, in case they finish assignments early. (No phones are allowed in study hall either.) They take their tests under proctors. Curfew at the hotel is 10:30 p.m. and all lights must be out by 11. Thacker said the only class that’s been hard to keep up with is Spanish, but he has found language apps and other electronic assistance.

“It’s been nice to be in the hotel,” Brown volunteered. Neither complained of being homesick while serving, though Thacker said he feels like he is missing a lot of the basketball season. Brown called the page program “well organized.” Its history dates to the 1850 session.

Applicants are expected to have A or B averages as students and they must write an essay that explains why they think they would be good pages. They must arrange for three letters of reference and Henley also submitted supporting documents. Applications are due by November for the year following.

Brown and Thacker met with local representatives Steve Landes and Creigh Deeds when they applied.

“I’ve always seemed to have leadership skills and I like history,” said Thacker, who added that he has visited many Civil War battlefields.

“I like being informed about current events,” said Brown, who also agreed that the leadership component is attractive inducement.

Pages go to classes on how to handle money and on etiquette during two days of orientation before they assume their duties, they said. They learned the history of the capitol building. “Like when the ceiling fell in and killed 60 people during Reconstruction,” Thacker offered.

“[The General Assembly] is sort of like middle school,” said Thacker. “There are groups [of representatives] and they are all trying to get things done. It wasn’t what I expected, but it makes sense. I don’t know how they pass laws because the [political parties] are mostly even.”

Pages are summoned by representatives through a “button” system, they said. “Usually it’s taking things to their office,” said Thacker.

“I really like it,” said Brown, “but some senators are rowdy. Some are really funny. They’re all nice.”

“They like to mess with us and tease us,” said Thacker. “We get to go bowling with [Lt. Governor] Ralph Northam. There’s a basketball game between the delegates and the senators and we make posters for that and cheer.”

At the end of the session, there is a mock session where delegates and senators switch roles with the pages.

“I think [the people of Virginia] are in good hands,” said Thacker, who noted that because the session is available on the Internet through live-streaming, citizens can judge for themselves how well the legislature is performing.

“You learn a lot about the parts of Virginia” as a page, said Brown, who is now friends with pages from Northern Virginia and Southwest.

“I’m definitely more interested in politics,” she said. “I’m also interested in law. It’s cool to see the Courts of Justice committee.”

“I’d look into public office for sure,” agreed Thacker. “What I like is you have to work together and deal with your differences and be sure the laws work.”


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