Program teaches women ins and outs of leadership, Legislature

Posted June 07, 2011, at 6:18 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — It was the testimony of the mother whose son had Lyme disease that touched the senator’s heart and the lack of conclusive scientific evidence persuaded her head. In the end, state Sen. Christina Naylor voted against a bill that would have banned the use of pesticides on school grounds.

“That last testimony, that’s the one that got me,” she said after the Agriculture, Conservation Forestry Committee gave the bill a thumbs down. “I really do think the appropriate organizations have rules in place and use them correctly. The supporters didn’t present conclusive evidence of what impact pesticides have on children. We know Lyme disease is caused by ticks.”

Naylor, 19, of Manchester, Jamaica, may sound like an elected official, but on Tuesday she was acting the part of a senator during a pretend legislative hearing. The proponents and opponents, including the mother of the boy who caught Lyme disease at a camp that did not use pesticides, also were role playing.

The event was the culmination of a weekend of preparation and a trip to the State House on Monday. The activities were part of the 2011 Maine NEW Leadership Conference held at the University of Maine.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for college women to come together and be in an environment that helps develop the leadership qualities that are within them,” said Naylor, who attends the University of Maine at Machias. She is majoring in behavioral science and biology.

The conference is part of a national network that started at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The Maine program, co-sponsored by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and University of Maine Cooperative Extension, has been in place since 2008.

The program is designed to address the historic and contemporary under-representation of women in politics. The six-day program, which began Thursday, June 2, offered participants interactive sessions on leadership development, networking, diversity training and the realities of holding public office.

This year’s program drew 29 undergraduate women from 18 different Maine colleges and universities. It was held at UMaine, where students and faculty stayed together at the Doris Twitchell Allen Village. Off-campus activities included a Monday visit to the State House and Margaret Chase Smith’s home and library in Skowhegan.

Former state Sen. Betty Lou Mitchell, 73, of Etna was on the faculty for this year’s program. Mitchell said Tuesday that the Maine NEW Leadership curriculum would have helped her enormously.

“This program takes away much of the unknown many new legislators face,” she said. “It also shows you how to handle yourself so you can be more confident in the State House environment.”

Naylor said that she will put her new leadership skills to work this summer when she returns home Wednesday.

“This has increased my awareness about the political process and made me think about my country and civic life, which is not viewed as being very important,” she said. “I now know that I want to get more involved.

Mary Cathcart, 68, of Orono, a former legislator who is now a senior policy fellow at UMaine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and co-director of Maine NEW Leadership, said the program is, in a way, about passing a political torch from one generation to the next.

“Maine has a proud tradition of women in leadership roles, and this program is helping set the stage for those who will follow in those footsteps,” she has said of the program.

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