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New Dirigo Girls State governor calls campaign experience ‘intense’

Michael C. York | BDN
Michael C. York | BDN
Newly elected Governor of Girl's State Johanna Moody, from Poland Regional High School in Poland, Maine, attends the inaugural ceremonies held at Husson University on Friday, June 22, 2012.
By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — It was “intense,” the new governor said Friday of her election campaign.

Some politicians, however, might envy the whirlwind election cycle that led to Johanna Moody, 17, of Poland being elected governor at the 66th Dirigo Girls State. Parties caucused Monday, debates were held Tuesday, the primary election was Wednesday and the final vote for governor was Thursday.

Moody was inaugurated Friday in a ceremony at Husson University.

“The United States and our state are in dire need of voices like ours,” the newly elected governor, who will be a senior this fall at Poland High School, said in her inaugural address. “Government should be a positive energy in people’s lives.”

The issues she focused on in her campaign included developing clean energy, getting Maine’s best and brightest to return to or remain in-state after college, fully funding education and lowering taxes and lessening regulation for small-business owners.

Moody said after the address that her role models include Eleanor Roosevelt, Angus King, state Sen. Nichi Farnham, R-Bangor, state Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, and President Barack Obama. Moody said she plans to register as a Democrat when she turns 18.

The energetic teenager, who said she will run for office someday, was one of more than 200 girls who attended this year’s Dirigo Girls State program.

Juliette Luchini, 18, of New Sharon described the 5½-day event as a government simulation camp. Luchini, who recently graduated from Mount Blue High School in Farmington, returned this year as a counselor after being a delegate last year.

Each year, 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. A similar program for boys is held each year at Thomas College in Waterville.

Dirigo Girls State has four program objectives:

• To develop leadership and pride in American citizens.

• To educate citizens about our system of government.

• To instill a greater understanding of American traditions.

• To stimulate a desire to maintain our democratic government processes.

The program, sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary, held its first session in 1947. Today, sessions are held in 49 states, usually at college or university campuses, according to information about the program on the website of the Maine Citizenship Education Education Task Force. The governors from each Girls State program participate in Girls Nation later in the year.

“I learned so much more here than in class about passing bills and how government actually works,” Luchini, who was elected president of the Senate last year, said of her experience. “I wasn’t really interested in politics before Girls State, but it really sparked my interest. I loved passing bills and making a difference.”

Rachel Dow, 17, of Presque Isle came to Dirigo Girls State this year determined to run for governor. Once she arrived and saw how government actually operated, she changed her mind.

“I decided to run for Senate to work on some issues,” she said. “I was elected president and found I could accomplish what I wanted to this way and I liked being part of a team.”

Last year’s governor, Rebecca Pelletier, 18, of Bangor returned to Dirigo Girls State having voted for the first time in the June 12 primary election. Pelletier said Friday she was disappointed that only about 12 percent of the state’s residents went to the polls.

She had the entire delegation to this year’s program stand, raise their right hands and swear to exercise their right to vote in the first election after they turn 18.

“Dirigo Girls State is about female empowerment and democratic enlightenment,” Pelletier told the group. “You can’t have one without the other.”

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