Simeon Toronto, a Federalist senator from Minnesota, has always thought that decency and civility are lost arts in politics. His theory was proven correct on Tuesday night when he rode a campaign centered on good character to become the president of the 67th Boys Nation class.
Zachary Faircloth, a Nationalist senator from South Carolina, was voted vice president. Faircloth beat Federalist Aidan Byrnes of New Jersey for the position, while Toronto defeated Joshua Toch of California from the Nationalist party.
"You can't go wrong killing them with kindness," Toronto said. "It's a lost art in this world of dirty campaigns and people disrespecting each other. Kindness is just refreshing."
The idea to run for president was planted in Toronto's head before he left for Boys Nation. A director from his Boys State program visited him in his living room and mentioned the prospect of running for the national program's highest office.
"He said, ‘There's a very low chance, but you might as well shoot for the moon,'" Toronto said.
His approach to the presidency was much more novel. Rather than pitching his stances on issues to the senators, he sold them on his character.
"From a young age, I learned from my mom that if you want to do anything successfully, don't care about yourself – care about others," Toronto said. "Even if you are not genuine right away, you'll find yourself becoming genuine as you serve others, and you find yourself loving the people as you become genuine."
Toronto hopes to carry his positive attitude into a career in media, where he wants to create a broadcast news platform that shares the news in a less cynical and negative manner. He said he'd like to see news media return to a time when they respected the president, and the president respected them.
"Presidents used to have a respectful relationship with the media," he says. "...But that's changed. The second, he is out there, they are attacking him with very verbal and aggressive questions. I don't think we should treat our leaders with that kind of disrespect, and the leaders don't need to be that offhand with the media. I think the relationship could improve."
Faircloth took a similar approach in his final speech to the senators before they voted on the vice president seat. Instead of using it as an opportunity to remind them of his stance on the issues, he told a story about his grandfather who has worked in construction since he was a boy.
"We all know about our policies and stances by now," he told the senators in his speech. "I'm just going to use this opportunity to tell you guys a story about my grandfather."
Faircloth, who hails from a small town near Columbia, S.C., said his grandfather has always had a knack for prescience and foresight and has rarely been surprised by anything in his life. Before Faircloth left for Boys Nation, he went to visit his grandfather, who is now in his 70s.
"He admitted two things in his life have surprised him: one that Toyotas are winning races in NASCAR and NASCAR is actually allowing them," Faircloth said jokingly. "The other thing he said is the fact that someone from his family would be invited by an organization like the Legion to meet his president of his country."
His grandfather once lived near Washington when he followed construction work to northern Virginia, but Faircloth says his grandfather never thought someone from his family would have the opportunity to venture into the heart of the capitol.
"It's incredible to me," Faircloth says. "It's a testament to everything that this nation is about."