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Released June 9, 2004

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG -- The attitude and spirit displayed by the delegates at the 57th annual American Legion Girls State is just the tonic needed to revive public interest in the nation's political process.

That was the message delivered Wednesday by Mississippi Secretary of State Eric Clark to approximately 300 young women, all rising high school seniors, who are on The University of Southern Mississippi campus this week experiencing the inner workings of politics on the state and local levels by participating in mock political conventions, elections, trials and city projects in the fictitious state of "Magnolia."

Noting that in Europe voter turnout is often above 80 percent, Clark said the American public had, by contrast, failed in their civic duty. "We think we're doing good when we have a 50 percent turnout (for an election)," he said. "That's disgraceful, shameful.

"We're privileged to live in a country where we get to choose our own leaders," he said. "In some countries, that's just not so."

Clark quoted his friend, state Rep. Percy Watson of Hattiesburg, who he said likes to say that if a person is not part of a solution, they're part of the problem. "It's clear that you're part of the solution, not part of the problem," he said to the delegates.

"Given the fact that you're here, you obviously care about our government and care about making things better."

A native of Taylorsville, Clark previously served four terms in the Mississippi House of Representatives before being elected secretary of state in 1995. Last fall he won his third term to that office.

Even though many of the delegates have not yet reached the legal voting age of 18, Clark still urged them to get involved in politics now. He challenged them to volunteer for a candidate whom they support, and then register to vote when they turn 18.

"I'm involved in politics now, but hearing him (Clark) made me want to get more involved to help Mississippi," said Girls State delegate Erin Sanford of Pascagoula. "I definitely want to run for office one day."


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June 11, 2004 4:53 PM