State House page job postings are ‘word of mouth’
Some teens never learn about opportunity for inside view of R.I. politics
Rhode Island House of Representatives Page Ryan Lukowicz, 17, stands for the Pledge of Allegiance at the rise of the House on March 9. (Photo by Michael Salerno/Rhode Island Current)
Ryan Lukowicz’s lifelong interest in politics deepened when he got involved in a state funding fight over education services for students with disabilities a few years ago.
It’s how the 17-year-old North Kingstown High School student got to know House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi.
In 2022, Lukowicz became the state’s first page who is totally blind. He earns $30 for a three-hour session that starts at 4 p.m. and an additional $30 whenever a session extends past 7 p.m. Assistant head pages earn $40 and the head page earns $50
Lukowicz works usually once a week but more often later in the session. He records notes on what lawmakers say using a computer screen reader. Other pages scurry around the House and Senate floors, printing resolutions and delivering copies of bills as lawmakers debate.
The state does not formally advertise the decades-old program, which pays teenagers to perform administrative tasks for lawmakers during the session in exchange for a glimpse of the legislative process. That makes the State House student page program no exception to Rhode Island’s “know a guy” politics. But some say the growing push toward open government and inclusion should extend to the page program, too.
“I think the system has run this way for so long, which makes it seem hard to change,” said Pawtucket Rep. Karen Alzate, who was first elected in 2018. “But it’s really up to us, especially as some of the newer members, to try to go into our communities and bring people in.”
High school students interested in participating in the State House page program should contact their state senator or representative. All lawmakers’ contact information is available on the R.I. General Assembly website.
“It’s word of mouth, mostly,” said Francis McCabe, the clerk who has run the House page program for 17 years. The R.I. Senate runs its own program.
Which means pages are often relatives or family friends of lawmakers, or State House workers, or just motivated teenagers like Lukowicz who happen to run into an elected official at a community event.
No job postings. No formal application process.
There’s no formal application or review; anyone referred by their senator or representative who meets the criteria of being at least 16 years old and enrolled in high school or college can get in, said Larry Berman, House spokesman.
Many politicians cut their teeth as pages, including Shekarchi, the Warwick Democrat who served as a House page in the 1970s.
“It was how I first became interested in government,” Shekarchi said in an emailed statement.
Rep. Scott Slater, D-Providence, was a Senate page in the 1990s. Slater, whose late father served as a state representative, couldn’t remember how he found out, but assumed it was through his family’s work in government.
Slater tries to recruit pages from his neighborhood or at community events, but he doesn’t get many takers these days, he said.
“I think a lot of kids who get involved then tell their friends about it, so that’s how we get more. With COVID, we had a two-year intermission, so there are very few kids left to tell their friends.”
– House Clerk Francis McCabe
Indeed, the House page program had 100 students in 2019, according to McCabe. This year, there are 25 House pages, plus 18 on the Senate side.
McCabe blamed the pandemic, which shut down the program for two years.
“I think a lot of kids who get involved then tell their friends about it, so that’s how we get more,” McCabe said. “With COVID, we had a two-year intermission, so there are very few kids left to tell their friends.”
Other barriers exist, like the pay.
Alzate, for example, said she never would have considered a $30 payment instead of her high school job at Subway, even if she knew the program existed.
Getting a ride to the State House for 4 p.m. on a Tuesday can be difficult, Slater added.
Family members take turns driving Lukowicz to the State House and walking him into the building.
Lukowicz was quick to defend the page program as “not an elitist group” — anyone who wants to can join. But he agreed that there isn’t much information out there.
“I think they really kind of lack the awareness and the marketing,” he said.
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