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Page two: MHS well represented at Capitol

CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS — Mary Kate Gruening and Abbey Weldon of Marshalltown are serving as legislative pages for the 89th General Assembly.

The halls of the Iowa Capitol are crawling with Bobcats.

Marshalltown High School sent two students to the Capitol as legislative pages for the 89th General Assembly. Senior Mary Kate Gruening is working in the Legislative Services Agency and recent graduate Abbey Welden serves as an assistant in the House of Representatives.

There are 28 pages this session — 14 in the House, 10 in the Senate and four in the LSA.

Both students applied and were selected for page positions in the fall. They each highlighted a field trip to the Capitol they took in eighth grade as an experience which pushed them to pursue this opportunity.

Abbey Welden

Recent Marshalltown High School graduate Abbey Welden is serving as a legislative page for the 89th General Assembly.

Abbey Welden could not wait for her chance to serve in state congress.

“It is hard for me to think of things that I am not excited about. More than anything else, I would say that the upcoming debates excite me quite a bit,” she said. “I hope I am able to gain an understanding of bipartisanship and the ways in which our two parties are able to make compromises and work in unison.”

As an assistant in the House, she has a wide range of duties from answering calls to delivering files. Each day presents more variety.

In her first few days on duty she has already seen the energy around policymaking first hand. Though her first day was spent watching the inductions of new members she could hear the sounds of protestors ringing through the halls from the rotunda.

Welden’s kindergarten teacher Sue Cahill was among the new representatives sworn in last week.

“She’s always been willing to step out of her comfort zone,” Cahill said of Welden. “She steps out and figures out what she wants to do. It turns out she’s in the House chamber so I see her daily.”

Despite the events of recent weeks Welden is confident in her safety in the Capitol building.

“My direct supervisors have assured me that they are aware of the potential for protests in the coming weeks. However, I am constantly reminded that I am safe and I am confident that this is true. I feel comfortable that I will be able to perform all my duties in a safe environment,” she said.

Her interest in government has her sights set on pursuing more involvement in the future. She will double-major in International Relations and Human Rights at the University of Iowa in the fall. She hopes to work in a United States embassy abroad or with an international nonprofit organization in the future.

“My hope is that I may always be an informed and involved citizen. Since applying, the overarching fact that I am living through unprecedented times made me even more compelled to take part in the legislative session,” Welden said.

Mary Kate Gruening

Mary Kate Gruening recognizes change happens in the state capitol.

The senior applied for the page program because she wants to see how she can impact change.

“I’ve always found governmental processes and policymaking compelling, as both are an avenue for making monumental change that directly impacts society,” she said.

Working in the LSA, Gruening’s main duties include delivering bills, amendments and documents between the many offices of the vast capitol building. After about eight hours of traversing the halls she is assured a hard day’s work was put in.

“It’s safe to say I get my steps in,” she said.

Civic involvement was a quality instilled in Gruening by her family.

“The importance of the duties to vote and use your voice to advocate for what you believe in were emphasized throughout my childhood,” she said.

Gruening already has some experience working near politics. She volunteered with Cahill’s campaign last year.

“When it came time for the campaign, Mary Kate became volunteer extraordinaire,” Cahill said. “She did hours of phone calls to people. She was a rock star. She was able to handle that role very maturely and respectfully. “

Though Gruening had experience with the pace of the political world, the first few days at the capitol were eye openers.

“My biggest takeaway so far is that the legislative process is much more complex than it appears,” she said. “The amount of effort that administrators, editors, drafters, lawyers, legislators, and other “behind the scenes” government employees put into our legislation is truly amazing.”

When her time as a page is complete, Gruening will continue to stay involved at any level she can be.

“I’m exploring possible careers in government, law, and politics. I am determined to make change in this world and a great way to accomplish change is through policy,” she said.

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Contact Joe Fisher at 641-753-6611 or jfisher@timesrepublican.com

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