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‘Best and brightest,’ Girls State delegates in Powell this week

Sen. John Barrasso talks with Girls State delegates on Sunday. Delegates facing the camera from left are Kesslee Stewart, Cara Carpenter, Reba Lawrence of Powell and Liliana Barrera. Barrasso answered a variety of questions from the teens and had lunch with them. Sen. John Barrasso talks with Girls State delegates on Sunday. Delegates facing the camera from left are Kesslee Stewart, Cara Carpenter, Reba Lawrence of Powell and Liliana Barrera. Barrasso answered a variety of questions from the teens and had lunch with them. Tribune photo by Tessa Schweigert

Teens from around the Cowboy State are beginning their summer with lessons on American government, citizenship and patriotism during the 72nd session of the American Legion Auxiliary Girls State.

Nearly 100 girls began the week-long session at Northwest College by meeting Wyoming’s congressional delegation. Sen. Mike Enzi and Rep. Cynthia Lummis welcomed teens as they arrived in Powell on Saturday afternoon, and Sen. John Barrasso spoke and answered their questions Sunday. The students also have heard from various state leaders.

Barrasso told the nearly 100 delegates that he loves coming to Girls State.

“You are the best and the brightest,” Barrasso told the delegates. “You ask the best questions.”

Questions Sunday ranged from foreign relations to how Barrasso seeks to represent Wyoming in the U.S. Senate.

The first question was about the prisoner exchange that freed U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl and five Taliban detainees, an issue that has divided Americans.

“I think it was a terrible mistake to put up these five people who are now going to be rock stars in Afghanistan,” Barrasso said. “By law, the president is supposed to consult Congress, and if he had consulted Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike would have said, ‘Don’t do this, Mr. President. Much too high of a price.’”

The Taliban has said the trade will motivate or encourage them to kidnap other Americans to try to get other criminals released, Barrasso said.

“I think it will send the wrong message,” Barrasso said.

In response to another question, Barrasso said he supports giving weapons to Ukrainians in the conflict against Russia.

“We shouldn’t have boots on the ground — we shouldn’t send U.S. soldiers, but they want weapons so they can defend themselves. That’s what they need,” Barrasso said.

The senator also referenced a discussion he had with Dalia Grybauskaite, president of Lithuania, about Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia.

“The only thing he (Putin) understands, she said, is a fist in the face,” Barrasso said. “Anything other than that is an open invitation for aggression.”

He also referred to President Barack Obama’s recent speech on foreign policy.

“When a president gives a speech on foreign policy, it’s to do two things — to assure your friends that you’re on their side and the other is to scare the heck out of enemies,” Barrasso said. “... We’re at a point in our foreign policy where our friends don’t trust us and our enemies don’t fear us.”

When asked about his goals, Barrasso said he hopes to have more conservative-minded leaders elected to office.

“My goal right now is to try to get Republicans back in the majority in the U.S. Senate,” Barrasso said.

Barrasso said the best thing he has done legislatively was helping craft the Hathaway Scholarship as a state legislator. The scholarship is available to every Wyoming student who maintains good grades and stays out of trouble, Barrasso said.

Throughout the week, girls will learn about the levels of city, county and state government as well as the judicial system through hands-on training.

American Legion Auxiliary members in Wyoming select teens to represent their schools and communities at Girls State. The students have just completed their junior year in high school.

Delegates from Powell are Josie Brinkerhoff, daughter of Bart and Jan Brinkerhoff; Reba Lawrence, daughter of Ray Lawrence and Becky Lawrence; Gretchen Moretti, daughter of Jared and Heather Moretti; and Kierstyn Soloai, daughter of Brett and Cathryn Soloai. The Rocky Mountain High School delegate is Jennifer Parker, daughter of John and Gail Parker. Delegates from Cody are Deva Bailey, daughter of Josh and Machele Bailey; and Sydnie Neville, daughter of Michael Neville.

Brandi Seeley of Powell and Kimberly Holiday both are returning to Girls State this year as leaders. As delegates in 2013, Seeley was elected to Girls Nation and Holiday was elected Girls State governor.

Shareen Johnson, president of the Department of Wyoming American Legion Auxiliary, said she hopes Girls State delegates come away with a better understanding that they have an obligation as citizens to give back to make the world a better place.

“I would hope that one of the things you will take from this program is a desire to continue serving, whether it’s in your community, in your church, in an organization that you belong to, whatever it might be — that’s how you can give back what you’ve been given,” Johnson told the students Sunday.

Barrasso said that when President Theodore Roosevelt visited Wyoming, he said that he believed in the people of Wyoming and their future.

“That’s why I’m at Girls State, because I believe in you and your future,” Barrasso said. “You are the future of our state.”

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