ANNAPOLIS — North Carroll High senior Meegan Lawson was summoned last week on the Senate floor to distribute information packets to 46 of the most influential men and women in Maryland.
Lawson had no idea that the Montgomery County senator who paged her had handed her materials that would inflame the senator's colleagues.
Lawson divided the packets -- geared toward defeating a bill thatwould have raised the speed limit to 65 mph on rural interstate highways -- among other student pages, including Westminster High senior Karen Walker.
Before the pages finished the chore, Senate MinorityLeader John A. Cade, a physically imposing man known for speaking his mind, stood and told the Senate president he didn't realize that lobbyists' materials were permitted on the floor. Other senators had given the two Carroll students clad in gold blazers disapproving glaresand comments.
Gulp. . . . Emergency!
A security guard ordered the pages to collect the materials immediately and -- them out of thechamber.
"It was like it was ready to explode; self-destructing lobbyist material," Walker joked.
It was one of the more embarrassing and intimidating moments, but also a memorable and amusing one forthe pages, who spent two weeks of the three-month General Assembly session making life easier for the lawmakers.
Four Carroll seniors -- Lawson, Walker, Francis Scott Key High's Christina Bach and Liberty High's Jennifer Harman -- served as pages, doing the trench work that allows the legislators to focus on the tantamount issues. North Carroll High's Gina Christiani was an alternate.
The pages were selected by a county committee of social studies teachers. The applicants, who have strong academic and extracurricular backgrounds, wrote essays explaining their interest in the job.
The pages performed go-for work, but the tasks were worthwhile because of the exposure they got to politics and the people behind the scenes, they say.
"This is the best experience of anything I've done in school," said Lawson. "You can read books, but you don't learn a thing until you get down here. You learn so much more by watching."
The pages say the experience has raised their interest in political issues and has helped influence their future plans. Harman wants to be a tax attorney and advise legislative committees; Walker wants to be a criminal prosecutor; Bach is interested in a government service career; and Lawson plans to major in physical therapy and minor in political science.
The pages organized the legislators' bill books before session, distributedamendments and roll call votes on the floor, made copies, delivered messages and served coffee, water, snacks or whatever else a lawmakerdesired.
Walker served coffee daily to Sen. Idamae Garrott -- decaffeinated, with a little cream and one pack of Sweet 'N Low -- and hung up a coat for the 75-year-old Montgomery County Democrat, who walks with a crutch.
The pages each served their first week early in the session, when the pace was slower and floor sessions shorter.
But last week, as the session wound toward Monday's scheduled close and crucial budget and tax issues remained unresolved, Senate sessionsbecame longer and tension noticeably increased, said Lawson and Walker.
"There's a lot of pressure from the public because people think (the legislators) aren't doing anything, and now they want to extend the session," said Walker.
Added Lawson, "I can tell it's weighing very heavily on their minds."
The pages said they are impressedwith how much work gets done and how fast the legislative process moves, adding that some citizens might change their skeptical opinions if they had a chance to observe.
"Some of the delegates work tremendously," said Harman. "They inspire you to want to go out and stretch for your dream."
They also were struck by legislators' sudden swings from intensity to levity to seeming nonchalance. On the floor, alegislator will play a practical joke one moment, engage in a hot debate the next, then talk on the phone and read a newspaper, they observed.
The pages lived with a host in Annapolis, paying $10 per night. They received a $35 stipend per day. They spent much of their free time shopping, dining and exploring the Annapolis waterfront.
"It brought us into the real world for a week," said Walker. "We were responsible for ourselves and how we presented ourselves. We had to adapt to different personalities."
Bach and Lawson plan to work as pages Monday, the celebratory, confetti-showered last night of the session, unless it is extended.
"I'm totally overwhelmed that I'll behere at midnight," said Lawson.
"I want to know what they do at midnight, if they go crazy, if they are absolutely relieved."