Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wes Interviewed on KSL 5 News

On Day Two of the RNC, we had a very busy and exciting day. It started out with the Utah students who were attending the convention with JSA being invited to join the Utah delegation for the delegation breakfast and to hear New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speak. My friend, KSL 5 reporter Rich Piatt was at the breakfast and interviewed several of us regarding our impressions of the convention and the presidential candidates. Here's the interview:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer in DC, Part I

Will in front of Webster Hall, the Senate Page
Dorm on his first day ast a US Senate Page.
Will and I started Summer 2012 with a month in our nation's capitol, Washington DC. Will is serving as a Senate Page in the US Senate at the Capitol building. He was appointed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Serving as a Senate Page is one of the best ways to learn how the Senate and our legislative branch of government work. Senate Pages can serve during the summers before their Junior or Senior years (Summer Page) or during their Junior year of high school (Semester Page). For more information on how you can apply to be a US Senate Page, you should contact your two senator's offices. Go to the Senator's Page to find a list of contact information for all US Senators. Since there are only a few dozen pages appointed for each session, competition for a Page position is tough. However, if you are a US citizen, 16-17 years old, have a GPA over 3.0/4.0 and good recommendations, you are eligible to apply. Senate Pages are paid for their service.

On June 19, Will had the honor of being the Youth Speaker at the US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee Youth Wellness Dinner honoring Mrs. Debbie Dingell (the wife of the longest-serving member of the US Congress, John Dingell. The dinner was sponsored by the Congressional Award Foundation, and hosted by Sens. Harkin, Enzi, Franken and Isakson, the Senate HELP Committee and the US House Energy and Commerce Committee. Mrs. Dingell was honored for her years of service on behalf of women, children and families.

Some of the Energy and Commerce Committtee members
at the dinner to support Mrs. Dingell.

Will and Mrs. Dingell.


Program Manager for the
Congressional Award's Western
Region, Mark Stevans, with Will

Chairman of the Congressional
Award Foundation, Paxton Baker,
with Will and Mom


On June 20th, we attended the 2012 Congressional Award Gold Medal Ceremony in the historic Cannon Caucus Room in the Cannon House Office Building. We met people from all over the US who were there to watch their family members receive the Congressional Award Gold Medal from Congress. The ceremony was pretty impressive. Wolf Blitzer from CNN was the master of ceremonies and he kept the program moving through all 100+ medal presentations. He talked about the projects that each medalist had participated in to win the award, and some of the projects were amazing. If you want to learn more about how you can earn the Congressional Award, you can visit their website at . After the ceremony, Will had to get back to his Senate Page duties, but Mom and I took one of the other Utah Medalists and her parents to lunch in the Member's Dining Room at the Capitol and for a capitol tour. It was a pretty fun day.

Will receiving his Congressional Award Gold Medal from
a member of congress, with Mr. Baker and Mr. Blitzer
looking on.
Four Utah medalists with the presenting
Congressman and Mr. Baker.

Our former DC neighbors and close friends came to
the ceremony to watch Will receive his medal.

Will with Wolf Blitzer of CNN.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Tribute to Our Dad, Former US Congressman Bill Orton

Wes and me in front of the Utah State Capitol with the flag
flying at half staff in memory of our dad, Bill Orton.

As a new Presidential election season gets underway and Kids Rock The Vote begins coverage of the 2012 Campaign, we would be remiss if we didn't offer a tribute to our father, Bill Orton, who died in an ATV accident three months after taking us to DC for President Obama's inauguration.

When we were growing up, lots of people called our dad, "Congressman Orton", but he would always say, "Call me 'Bill'" or "'Bill' is fine". Dad was never much for pomp and circumstance. He grew up working on a farm and in dairies from elementary school until he left for college, and worked his way through college and law school, holding down two jobs and studying while taking full class loads. Until recently, Dad was the only member of his family with a college degree. After Dad got his law degree, he began seeing problems with our country's tax laws that he thought he could help fix. However, in order to fix them, he felt he needed to be in Congress.

Dad wasn't a "politician'. He was shy--not an outgoing people person, at all. He was intelligent and had great ideas, but he couldn't envision himself campaigning and asking people to vote for him. In 1989, he was traveling the country, teaching tax attorneys about the changes in tax laws when he was approached by a group of his clients who told him that the American people really needed someone in congress who understood tax law. They thought that Dad was just the person Congress needed. Since Dad was a Democrat in what was, at that time, the most Republican district in the country, he didn't believe that he could win an election. But, he knew that if he didn't try to make a difference, he would have no right to complain when the changes he wanted to see didn't happen. So, he ran and worked hard on his campaign. He won. And he won again, and again. People are willing to give you a chance to do something good even if they don't always agree with you. So, Dad went to Congress.

While Dad was in Congress he did some very important work. He didn't get to make the tax law changes he hoped to see. However, he did make progress on other issues, like balancing the federal budget and helping Democrats and Republicans work together to make things better for our country. Dad was one of the original founders of the Blue Dog Democrats. The Blue Dogs are moderate Democrats who work with other Democrats and Republicans to try to find a compromise on legislation that is good for our country.

Congressional historians also believe that Dad is the only person in our nation's history known to argue against the constitutionality of a piece of legislation (the Line Item Veto) on the floor of the House or Senate, have it pass, then successfully argue for it to be overturned by the Supreme Court (Clinton v. Idaho Potato Growers) after he left Congress. Dad believed that the Line Item Veto was an important cost-saving tool for our government to have, but that the way it was written in the Contract With America was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court agreed with him. Though Dad presented a constitutionally sound version of Line Item Veto legislation, Congress never accepted it, and no constitutionally sound Line Item Veto bill has been passed since

Dad always told us how important it was for us to be involved in and understand what was happening in our community, state and nation. When we asked to go with him to the 2008 Democratic National Convention, I think he thought we would end up just goofing off instead of doing what we told him we wanted to do--start Kids Rock The Vote to teach kids how to get involved in the election and make a difference in their own communities. Like the voters in his Congressional District had given him a chance to prove himself, Dad gave us a chance to do the same. While he attended the convention as a delegate, we interviewed almost four dozen members of congress, celebrities, members of the press and kids attending the convention with their parents to help other kids understand all of the ways that we can make a difference in the election and the issues that Congress and the President think are important. Over the next few months, we continued our work, traveling to several battleground states to spread the word to kids all over the US that they can make a difference!

Our last big trip with Dad was to attend President Obama's Inauguration in January 2009 (see our coverage of those events here on our blog). We had no idea that it would be our last family vacation together, but it seems right that our last big trip would be to DC to participate in the culmination of more than a year's worth of Dad's hard work on President Obama's behalf (he was one of the first DNC delegates in the US to declare for then-Sen. Obama). Dad left us an important legacy of service and civic involvement. We hope we are making him proud.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Kids Rock The Vote at the White House Christmas Party

In November 2009, we got an invitation to go to President and Mrs. Obama's first White House Christmas Party. We were really excited to meet the Obama's and see the White House decked out for Christmas. On the night of December 4th, we arrived at the White House and got in line to go through security with the other party guests. It didn't take very long to get through security and inside the East Wing of the White House.
When we got inside the White House, there were lights and decorations everywhere. We heard music playing and there were lots of people walking around looking at the decorations. We went upstairs and I asked a man on the security detail if he knew when the Obama's would be coming inside from the lighting of the White House Christmas tree on the White House lawn. He showed us where the Obama's would come in to greet their guests and told us where to stand in the middle of the room so that we would be at the front of the group of guests once everyone gathered to meet the President and First Lady.
Soon, guests began trickling into the room where we waited. After 20 minutes, the rest of the 200 or so guests came in and stood beside and behind us. A few minutes after that, the Obama's came down the staircase from their private residence and spoke to the group.
When they finished speaking at the podium, we all waited patiently to have an opportunity to talk to the Obama's. There wasn't an official photographer taking pictures, and the Obama's had decided that they wouldn't pose for pictures with the guests since it would have taken all night for them to pose with everyone. However, when President Obama came to meet us, he said to the crowd, "I know I said that we weren't going to pose for pictures. But I'm making an exception for these two boys-- and that's all."
The President posed with us while Mom took a photograph. He asked us how we were doing, if we were making good grades in school and told us to keep up the good work with our volunteer activities.
Then, Mrs. Obama posed for a picture, asked us if we were ready for Christmas and told us to be sure and help our mom out around the house. Then, she thanked us for coming to the party. We felt so incredibly special. Several of the adults told us that they were really jealous of the time the Obama's spent with us since most of them only had time to shake the President and First Lady's hands.

After we met the Obama's, we went into the East Room, a ballroom where the dinner was served. The food was AMAZING! There were several tables, some with different types of meat, some with fruits and vegetables and casseroles, some with desserts, and others that had lots of different drinks--almost anything you could think of that was delicious was on those tables. We met people from all over the United States. There were people who had supported the President when he was running for office, prominent political figures, war veterans, friends of the Obama's, and a few other community volunteers like us--all talking and eating together while we studied the architecture and art in the most famous house in the United States.
While we ate, we listened to a member of the President's Own Marine Corp Band play Christmas songs on the famous White House Gold Piano. Not only is it the most visually awesome piano I've ever seen, but it has an unusual tone, as well. The piano was the 100,000th Steinway and Sons instrument ever produced and was given to the White House in 1903. It has lots of patriotic symbolism in the decorations, but the most obvious are the Great Seals of the 13 original colonies that go all around the sides of the piano.
As the party began to wind down, we decided to go back downstairs and go through some of the rooms we missed on our way inside. We've been inside the White House several times before, but we were either on tours where cameras weren't allowed, or where the room wasn't included on the tour, or we were too young to remember being there. So it was great to be able to spend time inside rooms like The China Room (where all of the White House China that the presidents have used since President Washington is on display).
We also got to visit The President's Library, which isn't included on tours but holds some interesting books and artifacts including a famous lighthouse clock. It's also interesting that President John Adams (the second President of the US) used what is now the library as a broom closet and laundry room!
As we walked down the East Wing corridor to leave the White House, we got to see the Kennedy Garden lit up with Chrismas lights, and some favorite Obama Family photographs. The one of the President and First Lady watching a 3D movie with friends in the White House Movie Theater was our favorite.
It was an honor to be invited to the White House by President and Mrs. Obama and it was a night that we will never forget. Not only were the President and First Lady very nice, but they acted kind of like normal parents. That may be because they ARE parents? Anyway, the White House looks different decked out for the holidays than it does at other times of the year, and having a chance to use the etiquette lessons we learned in cotillion was pretty cool, too (even if cotillion wasn't our favorite part of elementary school). We felt very lucky to be able to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience and to be able to share it with our Kids Rock The Vote

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Your Parent's Priorities Start with YOU

The other day, a friend of ours told us that an old article that People Magazine did in 1995 about my dad taking me to work with him when I was little had popped up on a Google search. It's missing all of the 'interesting' pictures that appeared in the original article (like the one of my dad changing my diaper in his office. Yeah...).

(You can click here to read the article)

Reading this story reminded me of one of the most important things that kids can do to make a difference in our country--Make issues that are important to kids (YOU!) a priority with the adults around you.

The greatest thing that you can do for our country might be to simply remind your parents and other adults of what's most important for your future. Schools (so that you can get a good education no matter where you live), affordable healthcare (so that they can afford to take you to the doctor when you're sick), jobs (so that they can pay for your food, clothes, home and other things) and safety (so that we can all be safe and healthy wherever we are) should be some of the most important issues on adults' minds.

In the current economy, some of the most important necessities for kids might seem like luxuries. But when teachers, policemen, firemen and others lose their jobs, this really hurts kids.

TAKE ACTION: Talk to your parents this week about an issue that's important to you. Ask them for their opinions, then tell them what you think, too.
Topic ideas might include:
*What can you and your parents can do to improve your educational experience? Could your parent volunteer at your school? Could they devote 30 minutes each school night to help you with homework that you don't understand? Could you donate books that you don't read anymore to the school library or to disadvantaged children?
*What sorts of things can you and your family do to help ensure your safety at home, at school or in your community? Could you work with your parents to develop a safety plan to figure out what you would do to be safe if there was a fire in your house? Does your family have a "meeting place" where everyone knows to go in case there is an emergency and you either have to leave your house or you can't get to your house?
*What is an issue that is important to you that you would like to learn more about? (ask your parents to help you gather and understand the information on your chosen topic)

Monday, February 2, 2009

President Obama's Inauguration

Day 7: January 20, 2009
Part Three: The MTV Youth Ball
The Washington Hilton

We were SO excited on Monday when we were given tickets to one of the two televised balls, the MTV Youth Ball. There were 10 official balls that President and Mrs. Obama attended. The two televised balls, The Neighborhood Ball (televised live on ABC) and The MTV Youth Ball (televised live on MTV) were evidently the smallest and least crowded balls.

We were amazed that the ballroom wasn't crowded at all. That meant that we had a close-up view of all of the evening's events and it was really easy to get around.

We got there at 9PM and the ball was just getting started. Our seats were right beside the MTV stage where MTV News Team member Sway was hosting the live broadcast of the ball. We had only been there a few minutes when Kid Rock (at left) took to the stage. His set was great and he sang "All Summer Long".

Next up was Kanye West. I didn't know his music so well, but everybody else seemed to. The crowd was totally pumped for his set. We saw Rosario Dawson, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, and other celebrities all having fun.

Usher was one of the 'reporters' for MTV's live broadcast of the ball. During one of his breaks, Usher invited us back into his "private getaway" to meet and talk to him and have our picture taken with him. We also thought that the lady with him was his handler (the person who makes sure he's not being mauled by fans and that he gets where he's supposed to be on time for the broadcast). But some friends from MTV later told us that she was his wife, Tameka. They were both so nice to us. Usher has some new fans in our family now.

While the Marine Band was setting up for the Obama's first dance, we were sitting beside the MTV stage talking to some of the staff. One of them said into their walkie-talkie "We have Tobey," and I realized that I was standing right beside Spiderman! Tobey McGuire talked to us for a second and was so nice when we asked if we could have our picture taken with him. It was so cool. I mean...SPIDEY! Fun.

Next, President and Mrs. Obama arrived. President Obama spoke about the important role America's youth played in the election and about how he hoped the youth would put their enthusiasm into service and building a better world for their futures. Then they danced while the Marine band played "At Last". The ballroom was lit up the entire time by all of the flashes going off. The Obama's were definitely the biggest stars of the night.

Finally, our friends from the convention, Fall Out
Boy, came out and rocked the house. They played some of their big hits, like 'Thanks for the Memories' and 'Dance, Dance'. Since they came right after the Obama's, everyone was really hyped and dancing. We read later that the guys from FOB were among the many celebrities who got to the swearing-in late (as in NOT an hour or two early...) and weren't allowed to go to their seats. They actually climbed trees on the Mall and watched the swearing-in from there. Fortunately, the got to meet the Obama's backstage at the ball.

Since I still had casts on both of my legs from my surgeries, I didn't try to walk into the crowd. But one of the ball staffers walked Wes and Mom right to the front of the stage. Wes said it was really fun.

At the end of their set, Pete Wentz threw his guitar pick to Wesley. But it bounced off of Mom and some guy picked it up off the ground before Wes could grab it. Wes was not pleased since he's a big fan of Pete's AND he plays the guitar. Still, he had a great time watching Pete, Patrick, Joe and Andy play from 10 feet away.

Before we left, Mom and I danced (as much as I could in casts!) up on the dais.

Overall, it was a great night. Washingtonian Magazine (which rated all of the balls) rated the Youth Ball 20/20--the best of the Inaugural balls. I totally agree.

TRIVIA: The first inaugural ball was held in honor of George Washington in May of 1789. But, it wasn't until the 1809 inauguration of President James Madison that the Inaugural Ball became a fixture on Washington DC's social calendar. In 1809, 400 ball tickets were sold for $4 each.
Day 7: January 20, 2009
Part Two: The Inaugural Parade
The White House
Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC

The press and inauguration officials warned us
that we would not be able to attend both the swearing-in and the parade. We would have to choose, because of all of the security checkpoints and roadblocks set up to try to keep the President safe. But when Mom's friend "Jonathan the Magnificent" gave us six 'Golden Tickets' for us to sit in the reviewing stand next to President Obama's stand at the White House, my dad and our friend Pat Merkle would NOT be deterred.

We had to be in our seats thirty minutes before the parade started. This meant that, after the inauguration, we only had an hour to go from the Capitol to the White House (sixteen loooong blocks from the Capitol) and get through all of the security lines before we would be blocked from watching the parade. Dad and Pat came up with a strategy to drive from Pat's house by the capitol, all the way downtown (away from the parade), then cut back down as close as they could get to the White House and park at Pat's office downtown(hopefully).

IT WORKED! We made it! We got front row seats right on the street where President Obama walked.

Then we waited while the parade procession slowly made its way all the way from the Capitol to our seats at the White House. Finally, we saw all of the police lights and knew that we wouldn't have to wait much longer. First, Vice President Joe Biden and Mrs. Biden got out of their car and walked in front of us. Their family was walking with them, too. They looked really happy.

Next, we saw the new Presidential limosine coming toward us with police and Secret Service people everywhere around it. Just as the President's limo got close to the Presidential reviewing stand beside us, the limo stopped and the Obama's stepped out. They waved at everyone and started walking down the street.

First, they walked in front of their stand where their families and closest friends were waiting for them. Then, they walked in front of us. It was so cool! They waved right at us! Luckily, my dad took the picture to the left just as they were waving at us.

After the Obama's passed our stand, they got back in their limo and drove around the corner, past the OEOB (Old Executive Office Building, where the Vice President's office is located.) A few minutes later, we watched the Obama's come into their reviewing stand and greet their family and friends.

In this picture of Wes and me, you can see the Obama's right between us in their stand.
It was great seeing the President and First Lady up close, but we were FROZEN! So we left the parade and came back to the Merkle's so that we could get ready for the MTV Youth Ball!

TRIVIA: Martin Van Buren's 1837 Inaugural parade was the first to include floats.
TRIVIA: In 1881, President Garfield became the first President to review his Inaugural parade from a stand in front of the White House