RNC: Young Reporter's Notebook

Somebody’s got to do it
New York City Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg was right … the GOP is bringing business to the city. From the looks of a pre-convention tour of Madison Square Garden on Thursday, every electrician, carpenter and plumber in the five boroughs is at work making sure the weeklong party is a success. It’s a wake-up call to see all these hardworking people.

Even the guy who puts down the rat traps at Madison Square Garden doesn’t wear gloves. The traps were the sticky kind, good at catching dust bunnies. Luckily we didn’t see any dead rats.

Patriotic protest
On Saturday, one of the protestors at a pre-convention protest was protesting the protestors. He was wearing a pretty tall top hat, plastered with the American flag and pictures of the president. Around his neck, he wore a clock that, instead of numbers, had images of Bush from the different speeches he has given. His shoes were even patriotic, painted with nail polish – red, white and blue. He said it took a lot of work.

Cheney visits, crowd gets earful
On Ellis Island, the republicans held an official welcoming party for Vice President Dick Cheney. The press had to stand way in the back but the regular people got to be up close. The Secret Service told us that when the press pulls out microphones they get jumpy because from far away, they don’t always know what they’re microphones. We saw snipers on nearby buildings, so we backed away.

We did meet a friendly Secret Service guy who gave us Secret Service pins. He was tall in a dark suit. He told us he was from Mississippi but now lives in Miami. He’s only been in the Secret Service for two years. It’s his first time in New York. He had done security for both the president and for Kerry and, he says, they protect them all the same.

To entertain the crowd, a high school marching band in yellow and black sweat outfits played a version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and D12’s “My Band.” D12 is Eminem’s band. While they performed, bag pipers rehearsed behind us.

Scissors, wrestlers and Boy Scouts
At the New Yorker Hotel, World Wrestler Entertainment presented their “Smackdown Your Vote” event with the help of the Boy Scouts. It seemed like they were expecting a lot more Boy Scouts to show up. After 30 minutes of the wrestlers speaking, they all sat down and started making Thank You cards for the troops in Iraq. Some had to sit on the floor but they were enthusiastic, none the less. One wrestler, using a purple marker and yellow construction paper, asked out loud how he should address his letter. He decided on “Dear my hero.”

Sly Fox
Fox News didn’t like our line of questioning with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). During the second question, a cameraman gave us a hand signal signifying that we should end the interview. We wanted to ask Hastert about how testing actually affects the education of students. We know that testing isn’t the same as educating kids but wanted to give Hastert the chance to defend the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

We had to use very “kid-like” voices to get interviews with Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Mike DeWine (R-OH) about NCLB.

Chambliss said that the government funds testing so that it can see improvements in the classroom. He also said that the government should fund more scholarships. This will only work if the scholarships go to average kids who need the financial aid, like those who won’t go to college without the help.

DeWine said that NCLB isn’t under-funded and that it will reach its goal by 2014. By then, we will be in our mid-20’s.

In and out
It was hot and steamy outside Madison Square Garden yesterday afternoon, but that didn’t stop party-faithful from showing off Republican regalia. Delegates, interns and volunteers expressed their GOP pride with pins: “Luvya Dubya,” “I Only Sleep with Republicans” and “Win One More for the Gipper.”

Lindsay, an 11-year-old from Missouri who accompanied her parents to the convention, sported American-flag earrings. Trudy Pellerin, a delegate from Orange County, Texas, dressed up in a printed vest also featuring Old Glory. She and Lydia Damnel, her colleague, shaded themselves with red and white cowboy hats that matched their Native American jewelry.

When asked how the Republicans intend to address children’s issues, Damnel responded that providing social services is the job of “churches and Christians. If it’s done through the churches,” she continued, “children will be taken care of properly…all [the federal government] has done is take care of the outside of children and we haven’t provided them with what they need inside to be better people and grow up to be productive adults.”

Still big
While waiting in the light rain for security to give us clearance across from Grand Central Station, an elderly man questioned us about the festivities. “Why is Giuliani here?” For 10 minutes he praised the virtues of the former mayor, who was being honored at the luncheon. “Giuliani did what any mayor should do. He is not supposed to hide under his bed.”

Once inside the restaurant, we took advantage of the opportunity to ask Giuliani about health insurance. Before we finished asking the question, he started talking about HealthStat, a program which claims to have provided health insurance to 96,000 children and families.

We wanted to ask a follow-up but the security guards were “whispering” in our ear, “just one question.” We left while the rest of the people, who had paid at least $2,000 to be there, were being served their fancy salads.

Wheels on the house go round and round
Career advice or political philosophy from former bus driver and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, to us:

“Do you know why driving a school bus was important? Huh? When you drive to school you have to get that big bus right down the middle of the road. That means that everybody behind you has to behave and you have to keep your eye on that mirror and watch your back.”

Open mic on the Bowery
At a SoHo event for Sen. Rick Santorum a cheery lady in purple introduced us to an RNC press secretary who was talking into her cell phone. While waiting for her to finish, we listened to cell phones rings. Eventually a man came and took us to see Santorum.

In a mandarin orange T-shirt and khaki pants, we didn’t recognize the senator. He looked a lot younger than in the press photos on his website. He was finishing up an interview with a reporter from “How’s Your News?”

Before leaving the room, the journalist questioned the senator about his favorite talk show host. After the senator answered, the reporter said, “I can do a great imitation of that person.” And then he proceeded to do one. The senator replied, “That’s the best imitation I’ve ever heard, better than I could ever do.”

We didn’t do any imitations for the senator. But we did ask him about the harassment faced by gay students and federal education policies. He said he couldn’t answer a question about the federal safe schools act because he’s “not an expert.” Somebody in his state, Pennsylvania, must be an expert because it is one of five states that prohibit harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

After a few questions, we left the small room and thanked Santorum and the lady in purple for their time. They said, “You’re welcome,” “Anytime” and “Good luck.”

What’s your beef?
When asked what he felt could be done to increase youth voter turnout by kid reporters from 8-18 Media, Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele said it starts with government officials meeting with the young people and asking, "Wassup? What's your issue? What's your beef? What do you like? What don't you like? How would you like to see the government performing for you?"

Since Steele, asked, students in Marquette, Mich., (where 8-18 Media is based), gave these answers:

"The [local] budget cuts affect my brother because [now] there are no honors classes for him to take," said Jessica Vonck, 17. "This year he had to take a bunch of regular classes and he felt like he could slack off in all the courses. He never did homework because he didn't have to."

Nick Quinnell, 18, said he’s worried about how the cuts would affect college acceptance. "If [colleges] have a choice between somebody who got all “A”s from our high school, which has no honors classes, or all “A”s from some school that does, obviously they're going to take the kid that had the honors classes," he said.

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