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Youth: Young Republicans gathered--and paid--for a week of conservative camaraderie and good clean fun. So far, their pavilion has been more like 'Home Alone.'


SAN DIEGO — The GOP platform talks a red, white and blue streak about protecting America's young with curfews and family values, but you might not know it by visiting the party's youth pavilion.

Here, in a bayside park behind the convention center, the order of the day for 1,000 teens and young adults seems to be sleep deprivation, lack of food, a few cigarettes, beanbag fights and a surprising lack of supervision.

During one meal, held at a nearby university, there were even two streakers.

"I came here because I thought it would be a highlight of my young life, but it's been a great disappointment," said 16-year-old Amy Cihak of San Diego. "We really believe in the GOP, but I don't think we should cover up and say we're having a great time when we're not."

She and the other young Republicans, ages 16 to 25, wrote essays and paid $325 (plus transportation) for what they thought would be a week of conservative camaraderie, visits with political luminaries, hearty meals and a chance to get onto the convention floor as part of the Republican National Convention's Young Voters Program.

Some things have come off as expected. But others have been in disarray, said the youths, who cite battles over scarce--and late--food, lack of drinking water and sunburns caused by pavilion leaders failing to distribute donated sunscreen.

Kimberly Clark, 16, of Pasadena, said a handful of her fellow young Republicans were so fed up with the snafus that they had gone home--even if it was across the country.

"One day, breakfast was just milk and a banana, but we didn't even get to eat it because the buses were leaving," she complained.

On Sunday night, dinner wasn't served until 10 p.m., Cihak said: "They finally ordered pizza. If you wanna see, like, a riot, try 1,000 kids hitting, pushing and fighting over pizza."

And then the streakers ran through--two males, buck naked. So much for the dress code of khaki slacks and button-down shirts for the guys and dark skirts and white blouses for the girls.

But the chief complaint seems to be a so-far broken promise that the group would be leading pep rallies on the convention floor.

"We were all pretty angry last night," 19-year-old Matt Roberson said Tuesday.

GOP officials are trying to work out the problem with the Secret Service, which vetoed the idea of granting the group hall access, said Anne Gavin, director of communications for the convention.

But the frustration boiled over Monday night at the youth pavilion "block party." There was a beanbag chair melee, young Republicans openly smoking cigars and cigarettes, and little sign of adult supervision.

When Chris Hull, a pavilion spokesman, was asked at the end of the concert if the teens and young adults were allowed to smoke, he was incredulous. "No, God no," he said. "I didn't see it."

It was a little hard to miss. About half a dozen or so were puffing away right by the concert stage, in full view of the TV camera taping the music.

Teens were also leaping off the stage into a pile of beanbag chairs, then swinging and throwing the bags at each other, at the bands and--in one instance--at a newspaper photographer, although it all seemed to be in fun.

At about 10 p.m., an adult finally grabbed the microphone, killed the music and scolded the youths: "Stop that right now. That is not appropriate."

Some shouted in return: "Put the band back on, goddammit."

The music then resumed and so did the beanbag-chair battle, albeit less frenetically. A San Diego police officer who wandered through said later, "I'm surprised they didn't have a staff pro or security. It looked kinda rowdy."

(He said that local cops aren't supposed to police such events but that he stayed on the scene until the concert ended.)

Spokeswoman Gavin said the youths shouldn't have been jumping off the stage. As for complaints about water and food distribution, she said she'd heard of no problems. Ditto for the streakers. "That didn't happen," she said.

Stressing that the large youth gathering is the first of its kind, she added, "We may have some glitches, but overall I think this has been a positive experience for them."

To be sure, nearly everyone interviewed also had good things to say about the program.

"I met Alan Keyes today," gushed Jeff Johnson of Wyoming, resting on a hammock. "I shook his hand and it was like, oh my God. . . . This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance."

Others spoke glowingly of question-and-answer sessions with such GOP celebrities as Mary Matalin and Sen. Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming, not to mention riding in the boat cavalcade for Bob Dole's seaborne convention entrance. There's also the bonus presence of an MTV crew parked outside with a Hulk Hogan doll in its bus windshield.

Even the lack of sleep--up at 5 a.m., back to the dorms about midnight--doesn't bother many of the young conservatives. "I'm going on four hours sleep and I feel great," said Michelle Redepenning, 17, of Madison, Minn. "The adrenaline is so great. This is what we live for."

Despite her complaints, Cihak agrees. "I called my parents and they said I should just come home. But I want to be here because I was chosen for it."

And Roberson said all would be forgiven if the group could just get onto the convention floor: "They can starve us, keep us from sleeping and totally screw us under and that'll be OK. Even if I can't take a shower for three days, if they get us out there, I'll be happy."

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