HJ/EDHerald Journal, Feb. 27, 2006

Area girl gets close-up view of State of the Union

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

An aspiring politician sat in the gallery of the United States Capitol, taking in the atmosphere of the 2006 US Presidential State of the Union Address, Jan. 31.

All around her were America’s elite – politicians, lawyers, the First Lady, and even a protestor or two.

But this was no law student or senator’s daughter; it was Elizabeth Peterson of Waconia, daughter of Greg Peterson who manages the Kenzoil Station in New Germany, and Anne Meyer, a teacher in Robbinsdale.

So how did Peterson, a junior at Waconia High School, end up sitting just seats away from the First Lady of the United States, listening in person as President George W. Bush addressed the nation?

It all started with a letter.

Bestowed with an innate interest in politics, Peterson wrote Senator Mark Dayton a letter her sophomore year, asking if she could shadow him for one day.

Dayton agreed. Peterson spent May 17 following Dayton to meetings, speeches, and the day-to-day activities a public official faces.

“I wanted to shadow him because he is a good role model,” Peterson said.

Peterson also wanted a glimpse into what her life would be like if she ran for office, something she feels is very important.

“The decisions politicians make really do affect us,” Peterson said.

Peterson turned her one-day shadowing experience into an internship with Mark Dayton that summer, striving to catch a glimpse of what her life would be like if she chose to run for office.

“It definitely makes me see what working hard and achieving your goals is all about, and being able to help other Minnesotans,” Peterson said.

Following the end of summer, and her internship, Peterson went back to school, but was personally called back to the world of politics shortly thereafter.

“Dayton invited me to shadow him Jan. 31,” Peterson said. It was the day of the State of the Union Address, and the Minnesota senator wanted Peterson to have his guest ticket.

Peterson flew to Washington D.C. with her mom the weekend before the speech.

“We did all the tourist things,” Peterson said.

Then it got down to business, as Peterson accompanied Dayton to the White House Jan. 30, where the St. Paul Library was being honored.

The next day was a whirlwind of activity, as Peterson witnessed the Senate voting on Supreme Court Judge Samuel Alito, and sat through meetings between Dayton and various constituents.

“I didn’t realize people went to their senator with those concerns,” Peterson said.

At 8 p.m. the main event commenced, and Peterson was ushered in by Dayton to the State of the Union address.

“Security was very tough,” Peterson said. “There were more police than people watching the speech. They wouldn’t even let us take in cell phones.”

Once Peterson took her seat, she couldn’t help but notice who surrounded her.

“It was amazing to see everyone. All the bigwigs, like Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, President Bush, and Vice President Cheney,” Peterson said.”

One of the biggest surprises of the evening for Peterson was the seating arrangement.

Everyone was segregated. Democrats on one side and Republicans on the other.

Throughout the speech, one side would stand and applaud, while the other sat.

“It was kind of like a teeter-totter. The only time they stood together was when the president walked in,” Peterson said.

As she returned home, Peterson took the experience of the State of the Union with her. But, if all goes well, it’s an experience that will not be a once-in-a-lifetime for her.

After high school, Peterson is hoping to go to George Washington University in Washington D.C., which her and her mother visited during their trip.

Pending earning a degree in political science and possibly attending law school, Peterson is hoping to run for congress, and eventually walk in the shoes of her mentor, Dayton.

“I think he is a once-in-a-lifetime politician. He really does care where Minnesota is going, and where America is going,” Peterson said. “He’s there because he wants to be there.”

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