Model 'senators' debate the issues
DeLand, Fla. — The alter egos of such prominent senators as Howard H. Baker Jr. (R) of Tennessee, Robert C. Byrd (D) of West Virginia, and Charles H. Percy (R) of Illinois participated in this year's annual Stetson University Model US Senate.
Each year a four-day political science workshop is held on this central Florida campus where students from schools and universities of the Southeast gain practical experience in the art of political debate and the complex process of lawmaking.
Assuming the roles of US senators, they portray their counterparts in mock Senate sessions, party caucuses, and committee meetings.
Designed to provide a greater understanding of the American system of government, the Model US Senate program originated 10 years ago here at Stetson, Florida's oldest private institution of higher learning -- named after John B. Stetson, the well-known hat manufacturer.
T. Wayne Bailey, chairman of the school's political science department and faculty adviser to the workshop since its inception, said that as far as he knows it is the only program of its kind at the college level.
However, one of Dr. Bailey's former students, now a professor at Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama, has adopted the model-senate format for a program with high school students in the area which her college sponsors. Another high school program was tried for the first time this past spring in the Brevard County, Flar., public school system.
At Stetson several months before the session the college students submit their choices for senators. These lists are tabulated by the planning committee and final matchups are determined. (Many black students and women students attended this year's session, even though no blacks and only two women are real US senators.)
The student "senators" then bone up on current legislation and parliamentary procedure and study their particular senator's voting record to learn how that person might vote on certain issues.
All participants quickly get into the spirit of the model senate and attempt to represent their counterparts as accurately as possible. Along with greetings of "Good morning, senator," and statements such as "The chair recognizes the senator from Massachusetts, Mr. Kennedy," or "I yield to my esteemed colleague from the great state of Texas," the students often exhibit some of the verbal and physical mannerisms of specific senators.
This year one girl wore a black bouffant wig over her own blond hair as she played the part of the freshman Florida senator, Paula Hawkins! Three-piece gray flannel suits and executive ladies' outfits are seen everywhere along with attache cases and looks of political determination. During a party caucus, one influential spokesman reminded his fellow senators that "leadership is based on persuasion, not compulsion."
In addition to the senators, several schools send students to act as lobbyists on certain key issues.Other Stetson students and local DeLand High School students act as official pages, delivering messages from senator to senator during the lively debates. Sitting in the "gallery" as observers are faculty members and interested townspeople.
For the past several years, the student senators have been sworn in by Floyd M. Riddick, parliamentarian of the United States Senate for 28 years, now retired.
Dr. Riddick, author of the book Senate Procedure, a definitive volume on Senate rules and procedures, come to DeLand eac year to serve as a most valuable adviser to the Stetson program. At one session during a discussion of S2378, "A bill to improve the quality of health care management in the US," the students got confused when debating an amendment. Dr. Riddick, who sits near the chairman, stood up and clarified the procedure.
One of the best parts of the program occurs during committee hearings conducted according to the same rules as the real Senate. Here, expert witnesses are called to testify.
At a meeting of the Model Senate Judiciary Committee, a local county fire marshal and an assistant county manager were questioned in conjunction with S 2292, "Arson for Profit Act." After finishing their testimony, the witnesses remarked that they were impressed with the degree of realism, organization, and professionalism shown by the students.
Highly popular features of the four-day session are speeches by local and national political figures. This year, Sens. Nancy L. Kassebaum (R) of Kansas and Howard M. Metzenbaum (D) of Ohio addressed the group and the public on successive evenings.
Senator Kassebaum arrived early enough to surprise the students by dropping in on their second Model Senate session and discussing pertinent issues with them, student chairman John Ralph said.
US Rep. Bill Chappell Jr. (D) of Florida, whose 4th District includes Stetson University, has been host congressman during all 10 years and has assisted in development of the popular study program.
The workshop usually ends amid a bustle of last-minute legislation. A number of bills were debated by this year's Model Senate, ranging from the imposition of increased taxes on products imported from uncooperative nations to the award of $1 billion of Iranian assets to former American hostages.
At the conclusion awards are given in such categories as overall excellence as a senator; best characterization of a senator; most influential senator; best committee; and best committee chairman.
The results of a questionnaire completed by the students indicate that the learning experience was an excellent one and that give n the opportunity, they would eagerly participate again.