On Day 5 of Boys Nation, the young men gathered on the senate floor to debate bills. Alexander Rathke from Random Lake, Wis., was glad his bill was amended during Committee No. 4's meeting a few days earlier – the small change that the bill received led to its passage.
Rathke's initial bill was to allow any U.S. citizen to join the U.S. Armed Forces, despite having asthma or an asthma-related disease.
"When I got to Boys Nation, the only thing I wanted to do was to get this bill passed," Rathke said. "As soon as the bill was presented in Committee 4, everyone there tore it to shreds until one guy said we should amend the bill and add non-combat zones only. As soon as we did that, everyone's views shifted."
Now, the bill states citizens with asthma or an asthma-related disease be allowed to serve but not allowed to serve combat zones.
"The reason why I created this bill is because I have asthma, and I've wanted to go into the military my whole life," Rathke said. "I tried to enlist in non-combat, but to do so you have to get a waiver, but to get a waiver you have to be off medications for three months. I tried going off medications but wasn't able to because my asthma is so severe."
"I voted for it (Rathke's bill) because I think everyone that can pledge to our flag and the colors for which they stand for has every single right to play any part to defend this country no matter how small," said Chris Watson from Gansevoort, N.Y. "As long as they won't endanger anyone else's life in a combat zone, they have every right to defend this country."
By mid-afternoon, the candidates' running for Boys Nation president and vice president graced the senate stage in preparation for the debate process. First, each party's platform was introduced, and then the presidential candidates – Federalist Michael Richard from Fitchburg, Mass., and Nationalist Jonathan Hess from Tuscaloosa, Ala. – debated, followed by the vice presidential candidates – Federalist Joseph Aumuller from Libertyville, Ill., and Nationalist Talior Arnold from Evergreen, Colo.
Each candidate answered questions that were previously submitted by their fellow senators to the legislative directors on staff. All four candidates individually spent a few minutes sharing their stance on the questions asked, which were on pressing topics that currently affect U.S. citizens: tax reform, illegal immigration, the national debt crisis and the Supreme Court's decision on health care.
After the debates, the senators ate dinner and then returned to the senate floor for elections. A few senators from the Nationalists and Federalists party stood on stage to elicit more votes for their nominated president and vice president by speaking highly about their leadership. Then, it was time to vote.
The senators were called by state to verbally cast their vote and give special thanks to their local American Legion post for sponsoring them to attend Boys State.
Toward the end of the presidential election, Hess led by a mere two votes against Richard. So when it came time for the Wyoming senators to cast their votes, they received a standing ovation – their votes would decide who held presidential office or if there would be a tie, which would result in a coin toss. With tension in the air, Hess and Richard shook hands, declaring they would remain friends no matter the outcome. The Wyoming senators both voted for Hess.
"People were telling us to tie it because it would have made the election crazy, but I knew I was making the decision that I wanted to make – I felt like I was making the right decision," said Zach Hall from Cheyenne, Wyo. "My fellow senator and I were able to put the person we thought was the best in the presidency."
And when Hess stood on the senate stage as the 2012 Boys Nation president, he showed his appreciation to his voters by saying, "Thank you all so much, there is no way I could have made it here without you guys." Hess is ready to lead his fellow senators for the remaining three days of Boys Nation.
"As the votes were getting close, we shook hands and Michael said, ‘You know, it's a really tight race,'" Hess said. "I didn't know how close the race would really be. It's just incredible. My goal as the leader of this program is to provide a framework so we can have an honest debate on both sides of every issue. I also want to see quality legislation passed, but I also hold the veto power."
The senators then voted in Joseph Aumuller for vice president.
"For these past couple of days I have been running for as many office positions as I can, trying to find where I fit in," Aumuller said. "I think I finally found it. I do support what Jonathan stands for, but I would also like to add views from the Federalist party platform that he might not be looking at. We need to listen more to the people so we can coincide with all our views."