Boys Nation Day 5: Representing the best of the best

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Tuesday is Election Day at American Legion Boys Nation. But first, there’s Senate business to address.

7:50 a.m. — The senators take over flag-raising duties, with Illinois’ Marc Antonucci and Samuel Ward, Maryland’s Jared Walker, New Jersey’s Chris Zuniga and New Mexico’s Eric Howe presenting the colors, and South Dakota’s Nathaniel Pekas performing “To the Colors.” Their first time goes off without a hitch, drawing praise from program staff. (West Virginia's Kaden Stenger plays the trumpet at the evening's flag-lowering ceremony, giving the Boys Nation Color Guard two musicians to draw from).

8 a.m. — The senators are back in session to continue introducing bills and resolutions.

9:08 a.m. — The session recesses for guest speaker David Azerrad, director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics, The Heritage Foundation, who will receive The American Legion National Education Award at next month’s 99th national convention. He talks about the principles upon which the United States were founded, including the affirmation that human beings are capable of governing themselves.

9:55 a.m. — Back to the committees for the senators, with many taking time beforehand to ask Azerrad more questions.

12:30 p.m. — More bills and more committee work. Among the legislation passed so far by the Senate and awaiting the president: a bill to protect student privacy on social media in schools; a student loan reform bill which would allow reduced interest rates for students with majors in fields with many job openings; and a resolution to recognize June 12 annually as Pulse Day in remembrance of the Orlando nightclub shooting. A bill to set up a national prescription drug database and a bill to create an organization to provide employment and economic opportunities for refugees fail to pass the Senate.

2:55 p.m.—Before the presidential and vice presidential debates, Program Director Mike Buss calls on Washington’s Benjamin Crosby, the 2016 American Legion oratorical champion, to talk to his fellow senators about the contest.

National Americanism Commission Chairman Richard Anderson also addresses the senators. He wishes the senators well and urges them to take two things back home with them: “What you take with you in your heart and what you take with you on your résumé.”

The presidential candidates are Federalist Blake Barclay of Florida and Nationalist Darius Thomas of Alabama. The 50-minute debate features questions submitted by their fellow senators, on topics ranging from the war on drugs, illegal immigration, and media bias to Russian election interference and options for confronting North Korea’s nuclear program. The vice presidential debate follows, as Federalist Jay Blackburn of Tennessee and Nationalist Decker Paulmeier of South Carolina address questions on the opioid crisis, the loss of blue-collar jobs and Social Security.

6:05 p.m. — Director of Activities Bob Turner talks to the senators about The American Legion and its various programs, his experience as national commander in 1990-91, and the trip they’ll be taking to the White House on Wednesday. He also encourages the senators to thank their sponsor posts and share their experience with next year’s potential Boys Staters.

“Help us to increase the size of the Boys State program,” Turner says.

6:45 p.m. — Election night begins with party representatives, Nationalist Mike Albright of Oklahoma and Federalist Sam Butler of Wisconsin, talking about their respective platforms. South Carolina’s William Galloway and Pennsylvania’s Corey Eisert-Wlodarczyk speak in support of Barclay while Mississippi’s Garret Smith enthusiastically introduces Thomas.

After the candidates give their final speeches, it’s time to vote for the president of Boys Nation 2017. The senators first vote via electronic clicker, then come up via state to announce their vote both to their fellow senators and thousands watching on Facebook Live.

Thomas is elected president; he’ll become the only Nationalist among the four elected officials as Blackburn is elected vice president, joining fellow Federalists Eisert-Wlodarczyk, the president pro tempore, and Daniel Meaney of Connecticut, the secretary of the senate.

“I was actually doubting myself for a little bit,” Thomas says of his decision to run for president. “But I ended up deciding to run the day before, for the nomination, and I drafted a speech that night, I wrote what my heart was telling me to write. It worked out in the end.

“… To know that I was elected out of all of them, it makes it even more fulfilling and it makes me even more humble. To know that they’re the best of the best and they elected me to represent them, it just humbles me and I’m so thankful for it,” Thomas adds.

Blackburn says his win is humbling as well.

“Honestly, I had no idea what this program was until about December, when my guidance counselor came to me and asked me if I would like to go,” Blackburn says. “Honestly, I was kind of dreading it because I had no idea what it entailed. But now going through this program … it’s just an amazing program.”

The senators celebrate the election with a group photo, urging Turner to join them. Then it’s off to section meetings before lights out; a long Wednesday awaits.

Follow the happenings at American Legion Boys Nation 2017 here on and on social media using the hashtag #2017BoysNation.

Boys Nation

At Boys State / Nation, participants learn the rights, privileges and responsibilities of franchised citizens. The training is objective and centers on the structure of city, county and state governments.

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