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Out of the Mouths of Babes: Pages' Eye View

April 30, 2015 - 6:00pm

The buzz of the 2015 regular session died midweek at the Florida Capitol, but ambitious teens working as Senate pages still remained as this years legislative session came to a close. The events of the 2015 session made for an interesting final week for this years page corps -- though not in a way they were expecting.

Working as a page gives Florida kids ages 12-18 a firsthand look at the ins and outs of the legislative process. The weeklong job lets them rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in the state, often fueling their desire to get involved in politics later on in life.

The last week of session is usually one of the most exciting for a page. The fourth floor is alive with lobbyists, making their pitches to help pass legislation for their clients.The House and Senate are virtually bursting with lawmakers, staff, media, anybody engaged in polishing up, finishing off and closing out a successful session.

Not this year. On Friday the Capitol halls were empty. An eerie silence filled the air.

Senate pages were left in the building with nothing to do. House pages -- at least most of them -- were already gone.

I was expecting a lot of work, said Damarion Lazi, a page for Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. But we didnt have to do much work because the House 'sine died' early.

Lazi hoped to learn more about politics by working as a page.

I wanted to learn about the process, he said. A lot goes into passing bills and amendments.

He told Sunshine State News he was surprised when the House left its post Tuesday afternoon.

Its kind of childish, was his take on the decision.

Other pages said they had high expectations coming into the Capitol. The reality was, well, not what they had anticipated.

I was basically expecting to do a lot of work all week because thats what Sen. Richter told me, said Sarah Carroll, a page for Richter.

On Friday morning, the pages sat down in the same chairs senators would have been using as they passed bills at the last minute, often into the late hours of the night before they called it quits in the 60-day session.

In the afternoon, a time when bills typically tend to be passing and failing at rapid speed, the pages were huddled around a table playing cards.

Lazi said he was used to seeing Gardiner a lot in the chamber, but he hadnt really seen him as much since the House adjourned early. Other pages said they didnt find out what was going on in the Legislature until Gardiner announced what had happened on the Senate floor.

Those who had worked during other legislative sessions said this year was a completely different rodeo.

This is much different than last year, said John McKenzie, who paged for Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. We were of more use to how things went around here. I guess [last year] you could say everything went according to plan. This week its still kind of crazy, but its crazy in a different way.

By now, the pages would be running back and forth paging for senators, but with no senators in Tallahassee to actually page, the group of 15 teenagers ended up touring government buildings instead.

Its still been a fun week, but I would say its been slightly disappointing, said Carroll. We didnt get to do as many pages as I was expecting ... we havent been able to go back in [the Senate].

Yet despite the session "trauma," most of the pages said they were more interested than ever in getting involved in politics, partly due to the chain of events with the legislative infighting that happened this week.

Definitely, said Carroll when asked if she would still want to get involved in politics. This ... helped fuel [my interest].

I sort of had an interest in [politics], and [that interest] is a little bit more now, said Lazi.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email atallison@sunshinestatenews.comor follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.

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