At 17, she's already a veteran political operative

NEIGHBORS

January 19, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Amelia Liebhold, a senior at Howard High School, is finally old enough to vote in this year's presidential election. But even though she has yet to set foot in a voting booth, she is no stranger to political involvement.

For more than a year, Amelia has been the high school liaison to the Young Democrats of Howard County. She started a Young Democrats club at Howard High, and she recently learned that she will serve as a page during this year's Maryland General Assembly session.

"I've always been interested in government and politics," she said.

Amelia will be able to vote in the Maryland presidential primary March 2 because of a rule that allows 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they will be age 18 by Election Day. She is not sure which candidate will receive her support, but she vowed that once a nominee is chosen, she will work to get that candidate into the White House.

"No matter which candidate I choose, personally, I'll certainly help with whichever one is the nominee," she said.

Amelia says her parents are Democrats, and she has long recognized that her politics lean left. "At the point when I started to understand the issues and what they meant, it just seemed as though it was what I believed in," she said.

Her interest in government crystallized the summer after she was in seventh grade, when she took a course in constitutional law history as part of the Center for Talented Youth at the Johns Hopkins University. "It was just the turning point," she said. "It just seemed that it was what I had to do."

When she was a sophomore at Howard High, she formed the Young Democrats club, an undertaking she admits has been an uphill battle. "It seems as though the saying is really true that high school students don't care about politics," she said.

The group doesn't meet regularly, but, under her leadership, it organized two registration drives for students who are eligible to vote, she said. She also spurred a Republican club to form, but it has since dissolved, she said.

But Amelia feels good about the experience. "I wanted to try to do community service while showing a Democratic influence and at least giving a chance for students in our high school to have an opportunity to learn not only about the Democratic club, but about politics in general," she said.

Young Democrats of Howard County is part of Young Democrats of Maryland, which is affiliated with Young Democrats of America. It is open to anyone younger than 36. As high school liaison for the Young Democrats of Howard County, Amelia is usually the youngest one at the monthly events, said member Kristen Neville, 25, who lives in Ellicott City.

"She has a very developed sense of the political system and how it works," said Gretta Schaefer, a social studies teacher at Howard High.

Schaefer now teaches Amelia in a course on the law and also had her for a 10th grade advanced placement class on U.S. government and politics. In her junior year, Amelia worked with Schaefer on an independent study of comparative politics.

"Every year, for a couple of years there, her mom would ask me what books she could purchase for Amelia for Hanukkah," Schaefer said.

Schaefer said that Amelia will be involved in a program called "Choices for the 21st Century" this spring in conjunction with Brown University. It is the first year for the program, which will allow students to conduct a mock Senate chamber and hash out various turning points in American history, such as the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War. Other participating Howard High School students are Sara Hester, Sennett Kim and A.J. Spring.

Amelia said she had been interested in the page job since her freshman year and saw posters around the school urging students to apply. "I knew this was something I wanted to do," she said.

Students must be seniors and at least 16 years old to qualify as a page. They must have good grades and an interest in government and history.

The Maryland Page Program, which began in 1970, allows high school students from throughout the state to serve as pages during the session, which runs from January to April. Each student serves two weeks. Amelia will be a page for the House next week and from March 15 to 20.

Typical tasks for pages include answering phones, distributing materials on the House floor and delivering messages to the members. "It'll be an interesting experience," Amelia said.

While working as a page, she will live with a family in Annapolis, she said. It will be up to Amelia to make sure she is up to date on all the schoolwork she misses during those weeks.

Amelia has been accepted to Brandeis University in Boston, where she plans to major in international studies or history, she said. Either way, she hopes to take an undergraduate course on wealth and poverty with Robert B. Reich, who served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration.

"She's extraordinarily aware, politically, for someone of her age," Schaefer said.

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