Area Boys Staters enter the political ring

MARSHALL – More than 350 Boys Staters were immersed in the political process throughout the day at state party conventions as the 2014 Minnesota Boys State program continued Wednesday at Southwest Minnesota State University.

Split into two mock state party lines – the Federalists and the Nationalists – participants voted to narrow down the list of nominations, which will represent each of the party lines as they go head-to-head in an election on Friday morning. They also focused in on their top-priority planks.

Marshall senior-to-be Collin Reilly ran for the office of lieutenant governor on the Nationalist side, but was defeated by four votes in the race against Benjamin Ertl. While disappointed for a moment, Reilly quickly got on board to help endorse gubernatorial nominee Tucker Pearson, the current mayor of St. Peter.

“Tucker was my running mate,” Reilly said. “I ended up losing in the last round by four votes. But I looked at him and said, ‘I put you in my speech, and I will make sure you get your votes.’ So as much as it hurt to lose and all that, we went out and got his votes and he’s been endorsed as our governor. We couldn’t be any happier.”

Throwing your name into the hat for nominations isn’t an easy thing to do, Reilly said, but he’s glad he did.

“I love talking to people and love meeting new people, so this is just an awesome opportunity for me,” Reilly said. “It’s always a little bit scary, and you can get a pit in your throat, but really, once you meet enough of these guys, you’re just out to have a good time and meet new people. It makes it a lot easier.”

Reilly said he had learned so much at Boys State, even in the past 24 hours.

“It’s absolutely crazy,” he said. “I’ve learned so much. I came into this, like a lot of these guys, knowing very little about parliamentary procedure. I knew you had to ask the chair to speak and stuff like that but none of the technical things.”

Reilly said he is looking forward to spending the rest of the week with the other Boys Staters, enjoying the life-changing experience.

“I’ve never been in the presence of so many intelligent, aware and involved individuals, and it makes this experience that much more awesome,” Reilly said. “They say you make life-long friends here, and coming into it, I said, ‘yeah, yeah,’ but there really are guys here that I’ll probably talk to for the rest of my life. It’s fantastic. I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity.”

Reilly ended up being the first one to offer a congratulatory handshake to Pearson after he won the Nationalist race for governor. Christopher Orner was selected as the secretary of state, Kristopher Nguyen as state auditor and Caleb Christensen as attorney general. Reinhart Boeser was chosen as supreme court justice, while William Cipos and Noah Hansen were nominated to be associate justices.

Volunteer counselor Tom Johnson addressed the Nationalists and encouraged them to “finish out” on platforms for all nominations.

“You’ve picked your candidates that you want to win, so now help them throughout your cities and your counties as you go on here,” Johnson said. “That’s what this whole thing is about, to endorse the guys who ought to run and then get them elected here on Friday morning. Let’s finish strong here, guys.”

Those who wanted to help with campaign management planned to meet Wednesday evening.

On the Federalist side, current mayor of Hibbing Lucas Mumm was voted in as the party line’s gubernatorial nomination, while Zachary Swigerd was selected as lieutenant governor. Hamzeh Salti won the secretary of state position, while Javier Lara-Ruiz was chosen as state auditor and Kyle Unzeitig as attorney general. Pedro Angulo-Umana will represent the Federalists as chief justice, while Alex Bender and Nicholas Battis will serve as associate justices.

Red Rock Central senior-to-be Joel Derickson was chosen as chairman for the Federalist party. Lakeview’s Sawyer Stevens ran for chairman on the Nationalist’s side but was defeated.

Tracy Area High School student Jacob Schmitt spent part of the afternoon at the computer, writing a bill he hopes to get introduced if he’s selected as a Boys State senator.

“I’m writing a bill for transportation,” Schmitt said. “It would be a wholesale goods tax of one-fourth of 1 percent of goods transported by truck to improve our infrastructure. We need to improve bridges and roads, so I’m very passionate about this. It’s something I volunteered to do.”

Elections will be held in the evening.

“I’m hoping for the best,” Schmitt said. “I’m crossing my fingers I get voted in for the Senate. But no matter what, I’m having a lot of fun. This has been an eye-opening experience.”

Countless young men have had their lives transformed by Boys State, including Tracy Area’s Tommy Nelson, who was elected as lieutenant governor in 2012. Like many others, Nelson couldn’t wait to come back to Boys State as a volunteer counselor.

“I was not able to come back and help last year because I was in basic training,” Nelson said. “I just love the program and what I learned. It’s been great seeing the people here, the counselors, too. I love counseling in any way possible, doing what I can to help the program to become better for those guys.”

Nelson, an Army National Guardsman, was supposed to take Advanced Individual Training (AIT) last summer, too but ended up taking it from February to April. He also took a break from school this summer, allowing him to free up a week this year for Boys State.

“I am working this summer, so I simply had to take a week off of lifting with my football team from Bethel,” Nelson said. “I go to work in the morning, straight to the college to lift and then get home for bed. Luckily, I had 24 college credits from SMSU, so it wouldn’t put me back for school.

“It’s a busy summer, but Boys State was the number one thing I planned once I knew I had my summer free,” he said.

Nelson, who was chosen as one of the 12 outstanding Boys Staters in 2012, believes that the program wholeheartedly helps to instill confidence in the attendees.

“A lot of these guys come here, and they’re already the best leaders because they’re chosen to come here,” he said. “And (Wednesday), as we look for different candidates in our own cities, we can see potential in them and maybe they can even see their own potential, but now we have to see if they’re going to act on that potential. The big thing is getting that confidence booster for everybody and myself, to act on those abilities we do have.”

Boys State oftentimes encourages young leaders to step outside their comfort zone. It’s then that you can grow as a person, Nelson said.

“You have 355 guys here, so you have around 100 guys at the platform meetings,” Nelson said. “At the end of the week, there’s a debate and the governor’s speeches if you’re the last two, so that’s 355 of your peers. Some of these people may be in speech class, but none of them have put themselves up in front of an audience that big before.”