BANGOR, Maine — Exactly 65 years after Bangor’s Ruth Lippman became the first governor of Dirigo Girls State, senior-to-be Becca Pelletier has become the fifth Bangor Ram to accomplish the feat.
The self-described situationally shy teen, who says she’s a Libertarian with Republican economic and liberal social leanings, wasn’t sure what to expect from the week-long intensive exercise in governmental immersion.
From Sunday through Friday, 221 female high school student delegates from all over Maine take part in town meetings and run for offices in the fictional state of Dirigo at Husson University.
“Another girl from Bangor said I should try to run because she could see me being a good governor, so I figured I’d try to do something big while I’m here,” Pelletier said. “I kind of made a resolution coming here to not be shy and put my best foot forward.”
She did that and then some as the Federalist Party’s nominee for governor. Girls State has two other parties called the Populists and the Nationalists.
“We had six planks and the last one was humorous, which I personally found to be the most important,” said the unassuming, well-spoken Pelletier. “We said we needed more sanitary bathrooms, better stalls, rubber duckies, and bubbles.”
And then there were the serious issues.
“I worked a lot on setting up the civil rights plank, especially regarding transgendered issues and the homeless,” she said. “Other big issues for us are alternative energy and encouraging small businesses.”
To that end, Pelletier and her fellow Federalists campaigned to establish a graduated income tax, institute tax breaks for new small-business owners, and establish a monetary reward for towns or districts putting caps on the number of large corporations that can come into their areas. They also talked about helping students in Dirigo after college with loan forgiveness.
“If they reside in Dirigo for five years as a tax-paying citizen after college, they’d get a 50 percent loan forgiveness,” Pelletier explained.
Several speakers addressed the Girls State delegates, including Gov. Paul LePage, former Girls State delegate and current U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, and former Seeds of Peace Camp director Tim Wilson.
Pelletier said she found Collins and state Sen. Deborah Plowman were her favorites as they were the most inspirational.
“It’s not just about standing for your party politics. It’s about standing for your own personal ethics and morals and standing for what you believe is best for the people you represent,” Pelletier said. “You have to take all those things into account.”
Pelletier, who next heads to the Girls Nation training program in Washington, has plans for the future.
“I want to go to Saint Anselm College and study a double major in French and English with a minor in theater arts or music, and then after that I’d like to enroll in the Peace Corps, and maybe go to Africa to teach,” Pelletier said.
That’s exactly the caliber of female student that keeps longtime Girls State volunteers and organizers coming back year after year.
Dirigo Girls State director Nora Thombs, who was a Girls State delegate in 1956, was honored for her long run of service during the week’s activities.
“I have an older sister and younger sister who were also delegates and I just worked up through the ranks as a counselor and working with the other director[s],” said Thombs, a retired elementary school administrator now in her 15th year as director.
What is is that keeps the New Sharon native and resident coming back year after year?
“This week completely changes some young women and gives them a career goal. For others, it teaches and instills skills and ideals that they use to become successful in whatever vocation they choose,” Thombs said. “And we’re a very close-knit unit whose friendship bonds started when we met here.”