When Maryland’s one-day governor was sworn in at the State House on Tuesday morning, she didn’t just raise her right hand. She lifted it high in a curlicue flourish. “Like Beyoncé,” commented the man with whom she would briefly share the state’s executive office, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).
Genea Harrison set herself apart as governor by more than just her exuberant gestures. She wore patriotic red, white and blue, down to her beaded bracelet and alternating nail polish. And as she repeated the oath of office, tripping over a couple of the bigger words, she became the first Maryland resident to ever hold the title of governor for a day.
Oh, and she’s 8 years old.
Genea, a rising fourth-grader at Rosa L. Parks Elementary School in Prince George’s County, won the chance to try out O’Malley’s office for the day in an essay contest meant to inspire girls up to age 13 to consider careers in public service.
From the moment she was sworn in, Genea followed a packed gubernatorial schedule — a reception for Taiwanese Ambassador King Pu-Tsung, a meeting with a caucus of women who work in the State House, some time with her speechwriting team to edit her message for the afternoon, an appearance at a conference for Maryland environmental science teachers, a swearing-in ceremony for new state officials. Not to mention the constant photo ops and the questions from reporters eager to hear all about the new governor’s agenda.
Genea mentioned smaller class sizes as a goal she would like to see accomplished in the state.
“This year my class had 32 people,” she said. “There was no room to walk between the desks.”
Genea’s mother, Angie Runyon, described her daughter as “a teacher’s pet” who thrives in classrooms where she can get the teacher’s attention — a challenge in such a crowded class.
Genea explained, “This will help our students listen more to their teachers and not get in trouble with other students.” In her essay, she also recommended Spanish classes for elementary school students and free after-school activities.
Genea reviewed a draft of her speech to the science teachers that members of O’Malley’s staff had prepared in advance. She told a speechwriter that the topic — keeping the Chesapeake Bay clean — appealed to her personally because she swims in the bay when she goes to visit her grandmother a few times a month.
By the time she delivered the talk an hour later, the speechwriter had added that personal anecdote right at the beginning of the speech.
In her winning essay, Genea also mentioned job training programs, public safety and drug abuse prevention as priorities. She and her mother said that they looked at O’Malley’s Web site together for ideas, and Runyon helped Genea put her thoughts on paper.
Genea said when the day began that she hoped to pursue a career in science or in fashion design.
But before her term in office was two hours old, she already had a new aim — running for reelection.
“I hope next time when I’m older I try to run for governor,” she told the women who met with her to discuss their roles in the government.
Many of the women, whose work ranged from hunger prevention to school administration to legislation, mentioned the challenge of providing services on a tight budget.
Genea took the cue.
She continued, “If you still work here, I will give you a balance. I will give you the same or maybe even extra.”
Gov. Harrison had learned the art of the campaign promise.