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Texas pagers to the rescue

Take boys and girls, aged 12 to 15 years old, put them to work in a state capitol, let them watch politics in action, and in 15 to 20 years, you're likely to have a full-fledged politician.

Call it environment, call it on-the-job training, or call it education, but what you have are boys and girls learning about the political system by being there and watching and listening.

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Texas Senate Pages win their jobs through political appointment, often from men who themselves were once pages. Today the boys and girls with these $25 -a-month jobs are in junior high school, but it wasn't always so.

"I was a freshman law student at the University of Texas and 23 years old when I was a page," remembers Sen. A.R. (Babe) Schwartz of Galveston. "It was 1949, and I worried the chief clerks of the House of Representatives until he let me be a page. I was fascinated by the Legislature, and I wanted to be near it -- or in it.

"I ran errands, and I wrote memorial resolutions, and became hopelessly star struck."

Senator Schwartz ran for a seat in the House of Representatives in 1954 and was elected. In 1958, he ran for the Senate and lost. Then in a special election in 1960 he ran again and won his present Senate seat.

Keeland Youngblood, who was a page in 1969, is now a first-year student at the Southwest Texas Medical School in Dallas. But his grandfather, Dr. B. E. Connor of Austin, says Keeland's choice of medicine as a career doesn't mean the political influence of the Legislature was wasted.

"He will be a political doctor," predicts Dr. Connor. "He may have Joe Califano's former job one of these days."

While Senator Schwartz thinks he may have been the oldest page on record, another Texas Senator, Lloyd Doggett of Austin, thinks he may have had the shortest tenure.

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Senator Doggett, back in the 1950's had wanted to be a page for a long time. He couldn't talk his parents into letting him apply, because they were afraid it would interfere with his schooling. One summer the governor called two special sessions (30 days each) of the Legislature. During the second session, young Lloyd Doggett finally landed a job as a page.

"I worked a total of seven days," he said. The experience of that week, however, stayed with him through high school, where he was a champion debater, through the University of Texas, where he was president of the Students Association in 1967, and now when he is a consumer advocate Senator.

Until this year, pages in the Texas Legislature had to work out their schooling the best they could with the teachers and principals of their junior high schools. Results were uneven. Some pages made up their work on weekends; others let it slide; and some fell behind, causing continuing scholastic problems.

This past year the 22 seventh and eighth grade Senate pages attend class four hours daily in the Capitol. The classroom is kind of a movable feast. Sometimes it's in a committee hearing room. Other times it's around the press table in the Senate chamber. They are likely to rub shoulders with the governor and sit among the statues and paintings of persons like Lyndon B. Johnson, Albert Sidney Johnston, Jefferson Davis, and Franklin Roosevelt. They live among the people of history.

In a way, the pages are attending a one- room schoolhouse, even though the Capitol has many rooms. They have only one teacher, Harvey Mayton, who teaches math, English, history, reading, and science. Just as in the one-room schoolhouse, he keeps at least two classes going simultaneously.

Actually, the school for pages is much larger than one room or one Capitol. It's as large as the state of Texas.

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