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Getting an up close look at state politics

by Tom Chillemi

Legislative page Allison Crittenden of Hardyville poses in the gallery of the Virginia House of Delegates at the State Capitol in Richmond.  (Photo by Tom Chillemi)
Allison Crittenden of Hardy-ville is receiving a firsthand experience in how laws are made while working as a page this winter in the Virginia House of Delegates at the Capitol in Richmond.

Crittenden, a freshman at Christchurch School, is interested in law and politics. She has especially enjoyed listening to delegates debate bills. She was fortunate to be working “on the floor” of the house when lawmakers debated a bill to ban smoking in restaurants.

Another interesting proposed bill requires public school systems to pay the costs of sending their special education students to another school, if the needed services are not provided by their own systems.

“You really get to see everything as it happens,” said Crittenden. “It’s really different than seeing it on the TV screen. You learn a lot more about what the delegates do by observing them in person.”

Crittenden is one of 40 pages working for the 100 delegates during the current legislative session that runs from January 11 through February 28. While Crittenden was nominated by Delegate Harvey Morgan of Middlesex, she is not a page just for him.

Pages’ duties include making copies, running errands and even bringing delegates food from the cafeteria.

Allison Crittenden and Delegate Harvey Morgan chat of the floor of the House of Delegates.  (Photo by Tom Chillemi)
Allison Crittenden works “on the floor” of the House of Delegates.  (Photo by Tom Chillemi)
Crittenden has the motivation and energy to keep up with the fast pace and long hours of a page. When working on the floor, pages wait “on the bench” at the front of the House of Delegates to be called for a job.

“We basically make it easier for them,” said Crittenden.

When not working on the floor of the House of Delegates, Crittenden could be found indexing and enrolling bills as they move through the process of being read, debated and voted on by the legislators.

As a special event, all pages were to have dinner with Governor Tim Kaine at the Governor’s mansion this week.

Crittenden has impressed Helen Hess, who manages the pages, said Del. Morgan. “She (Hess) was very complimentary of her,” said Morgan.

Due to her age, Crittenden, who turns 15 years old in March, will not be eligible to return as a page.

“She may come back as a delegate,” said Del. Morgan, and “carry on the tradition” of her grandfather, Fred Crittenden, who has been a member of the Middlesex Board of Supervisors for 30 years and served on the Middlesex School Board for 9 years. Her great grandfather, Thomas H. Crittenden, was Middlesex County Treasurer (an elected office) for 12 years, and deputy treasurer for 30 years.

Allison Crittenden’s interest in politics and law led her to “shadow” pages for a day last year. She then decided she would apply. She got a recommendation letter from Del. Morgan. 

“It’s definitely been a fun and interesting experience,” said Crittenden.

Although she’s out of school for seven weeks, Crittenden is still responsible for keeping up. In the evenings, tutors work with pages, who complete their school assignments and turn them in when they go home on weekends and pick up new assignments for the following week.

“These pages are really outstanding students, otherwise they would not have been chosen,” said Del. Morgan, who is in his 30th session of the General Assembly. “They have to have the recommendation of their teacher and their principal as well as their delegate.

“The fact she came last year to see what it was like to be a page shows a lot of maturity,” said Del. Morgan. “I don’t think many of them do that.”

Crittenden is the daughter of Jenny and Tommy Crittenden, and she gave credit to her mother for helping her become a page. “Mom helped a lot.”

Jenny Crittenden is the executive director of the Main Street Preservation Trust, Gloucester Main Street Association and the Cook Foundation.

Crittenden’s father Tommy is president of Heart Seventeen Produce Inc.

Her brother Vaughan is a junior at Christchurch School.

Christchurch School headmaster John “Jeb” Byers said, “We are extraordinarily proud of Allison and proud to have a representative of Christchurch School and Middlesex County taking part in the operation of our state government.

“From what I know of Allison, she will be a leader among the pages. Her presence gives me confidence in the organization, diligence, and integrity of the General Assembly this year,” said Byers.

Related article: ‘117 minutes’ at the Capitol

posted 02.18.2009

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