Entering the political process

MARSHALL – The key to making a difference – whether it’s in your community, your state, your country or your world – is to get involved, said the speakers the past few days at the 2013 American Legion Boys State at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. It’s a message that the young men in attendance are truly beginning to understand.

“All of our speakers, pretty much, say to get involved in some way,” said Steven Yang, Westbrook-Walnut Grove High School senior-to-be. “It’ll sure help me in the future. This whole experience is very motivating. They want you to get up and make a difference.”

Yang, who is a member of the Boys State city of Moorhead, has learned that public service can be a lot of work, but the dividends can certainly be worth the effort.

“There’s a lot of work that has to be put into it to make everything successful,” Yang said. “And it comes from everyone, not just one person. It takes a lot of people to accomplish things.”

At Boys State, which some call the mythical 51st state in the country, participants have the opportunity to get involved in as much or as little as they want. Much like real politics, most campaigns need representatives, organizers and supporters.

“To be honest, this whole government and political stuff isn’t my cup of tea,” Yang said. “But just being here and experiencing everything is really nice. I’ve learned so much already from just listening to these great speakers and everything.”

After conducting city meetings, issue forums and city caucuses Tuesday morning, the Boys Staters then gathered to hear about SMSU and the admissions process from Sean Culhane, SMSU college admissions counselor, and about the power of the platform from Joe Mayne, past Sons of the American Legion (SAL) national commander and professional speaker. After lunch, it was time for county conventions, where the Boys Staters were expected to review, discuss and agree upon county platforms and planks in addition to electing 12 state delegates and endorsing other state officials.

“They changed the format a little bit this year,” said SMSU communications director Jim Tate, who works with a group of Boys Staters to publish daily news about Boys State. “The organizers did a good job of setting the table by giving them the schools of instruction on Monday. The state convention is now one session in the morning and one session in the afternoon (today). It’s a lot of politics the next two days. By the end, it gets really intense.”

Boys State citizens from Moorhead and Hibbing came together to form Crow Wing County. Discussions took place in the dorm room where Moorhead citizens currently reside. The assembly was led by county chairman Steven Pfahning of Northfield High School and by Luke Kingsbury when Pfahning was in the running for a position.

“It’s where we conduct our parliamentary procedures,” Yang said. “We had to select and elect state positions for (today).”

A total of 19 expressed their desire to be state delegates. Like the other five counties at Boys State, Crow Wing County is allowed 12 state delegates. After short speeches from the candidates, the young men voted to narrow down the field.

“Just like Shakira, who said her ‘Hips Don’t Lie,’ well, neither do I,” St. James resident Derrick Shupe said in his speech.

Shupe’s supporters must have believed him because he was voted in as one of the 12. Five other nominees were elected to serve as alternates.

The Crow Wing County representatives continued on, electing two platform officials (Shupe and Alex Loftus), one rules committee member (Cody Goodchild) and one credentials committee member (Alex Claycomb). During the process, a number of Boys Staters made motions. There were even amendments to the motions entertained.

“(Tuesday) has been better than all the other days,” Yang said. “We’re more involved. We haven’t sat down very much in that assembly room, so it’s been a really awesome experience.”

The group then began nominations for endorsements of state officials.

“Just remember, if get the job you want, and you change your mind about your endorsement, that’s fine,” Goodchild said. “You can do that. And even if you don’t get endorsed, you can still run for the position. But this is just who our county is supporting.”

Pfahning was endorsed as a Boys State gubernatorial candidate, as were Ryan Condon (lieutenant governor), Loftus (secretary of state), Goodchild (attorney general) and Mario Chacon (chief justice).

“I was a captain on my school’s mock trial team, and I have the ability to look at both sides thoroughly,” Chacon said in his 30-second speech. “I like protecting the law.”

Shupe and Kingsbury were also endorsed as associate justices.

“I think it went very well,” Yang said. “It went better than I thought. Our counselors have been talking about past years, when it’s been slower, but this one seemed really good.”

As the young men continue diving into the political process, guided by the many volunteer counselors, the organizers at Boys State headquarters work to keep up with current data. Though she’s brought New Ulm students to campus before, Bert Marth, retired military and former New Ulm American Legion Commander, is officially volunteering in the office for the second straight year. Though arthritis somewhat bothers her feet, she thoroughly enjoys what she does.

“The Boys Staters’ enthusiasm is refreshing,” Marth said.