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Name: Patricia Campbell

CLAIM TO FAME: As Miss Teen Pennsylvania, she criticized welfare reforms.

Broadcast between the Republican and the Democratic conventions, the Miss Teen USA beauty pageant should have been an amusing diversion from election-year politics. Yet, in what might be the ultimate condemnation of the state of democratic dialogue, 18-year-old Patricia Campbell, Miss Teen Pennsylvania, sashayed onstage in a white evening gown and critiqued President Clinton’s approval of welfare reforms with more uncensored spunk than anyone at either convention.

Most of Campbell’s peers at the pageant stuck with benign topics, such as animal rights and anything having to do with children. “There are really bright girls, but the majority are somewhat vapid and don’t have any concerns about what’s going on outside their little lives,” says a pageant organizer.

But as one of three finalists asked the question, “If you could talk with the president about the problems facing teenagers, what would you want to discuss?” Campbell eschewed tried-and-true responses, such as “teenage AIDS and the need for abstinence” (advocated by eventual winner Christie Lee Woods, Miss Teen Texas). Instead, she answered, “I’d want to discuss the welfare [reform] that President Clinton has created. I think he really should have looked into it more before he signed it. He’s signing off on women who [now have to] leave their children without a national daycare program.”

Sound tame? Campbell actually said more about the welfare bill than the woman charged with dealing with its human fallout: Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, who spoke at the Democratic convention.

“I/m not the type of person to stand by if I disapprove of something,” says Campbell, who is taking a semester off before she enters Clark Atlanta University in Georgia to study broadcast journalism. “I think I represented the real issues of my community and my state very well by answering as I did.” Even if all that truth-telling might have cost her the tiara and more than $150,000 in cash and prizes? “If I believe something, I’m going to say it, regardless of what I’m going to gain or lose in return.”

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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