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Boys' State
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Kenny asked if I'd ever considered running for office. So I thought I'd share my experiences with Boys' State.

For those of you unfamiliar with this political boot camp for teenage boys, here's a description from the Texas Boys' State web site:

Lone Star Boys' State is an annual program, sponsored by the American Legion, in which teenage boys are given training in functional aspects of citizenship and taught constructive attitudes toward the American form of government. The purpose of the program is to assure the survival of the American democratic form of government by teaching youth to appreciate the basic principles of a democratic society. Nationally the program was begun in the 1930s to counter Fascist-inspired Young Pioneer Freedom camps. The Texas program began on June 10, 1940, with 108 boys participating. Participants are grouped into mock cities and form a mock state government, including the election of state officers. Boys selected are high-school juniors and are chosen by school officials and Legionnaires. Boys must be cooperative and motivated. The program is held each summer, usually in June, at the University of Texas campus in Austin. Two boys are chosen to attend Boys' Nation in Washington, D.C. each July. teach us to appreciate the basic principles of democratic society.

I was selected, along with another classmate, to attend in 1988, at the University of Texas at Austin. We stayed in dorm rooms, ate dorm food, and wore the standard Boys' State uniform: a white T-shirt with the giant Boys' State logo emblazoned on the front. It was the only thing we could wear, and we were encouraged to buy one or more extra Boys' State T-shirts to rotate out for laundry. Every morning we marched, single file, to the football stadium, where we did jumping jacks and push-ups. We also started every morning by singing the national anthem and the Boys' State song (and/or maybe the Texas state song...can't remember).

Then we broke off into small groups and basically attended civics classes throughout the day. Ultimately, we were required to run for a particular mock office in the Texas State government, which we could choose. You could try for Governor all the way down to the lowliest state positions.

I decided to shoot for Texas Supreme Court Justice. It was a depressing, but educational experience. We were supposed to fill out the proper paperwork, gather enough signatures to qualify for a given office (higher officies required more signatures, so someone running for Governor really had to have other people working for them). Well, I got enough signatures from enough strangers to qualify for running for Supreme Court Justice.

We actually went to the State Capital building there in Austin and gave speeches before the full assembly of our fellow Boy's Staters. Now here's where I learned the most valuable lesson:

The three or four guys running for my particular seat on the court got up to give their speeches. They yelled about how many people they were going to send to the gas chamber if they were elected. They yelled and laughed...stupid teenage boy crap. I thought they looked and sounded like idiots. But the crowd cheered.

So then I got up to give my speech and talked about balance, objectivity, and fairness. In other words, I gave an adult speech. The crowd was silent.

When the ballots were cast, I lost...huge.

So I learned, very young, that politics was about saying what people wanted to hear, about convincing large numbers of total strangers to like you, even if they've never met you. I learned that to win, you must pander.

You must also smile a lot.

Now it shouldn't suprise you that Bill Clinton was a member of the Arkansas Boys' State in the 1960's, and that he was elected to attend Boys' Nation, the same organization at the national level, where he met and shook hands with President Kennedy.

I, however, was not destined for such a path. I learned most of the important lessons of the inner workings of politics at the age of 17, and even though it only lasted a week, it was like being dragged through a slime-filled trench. And that was just a mock election and office.

The real thing? Hell no.

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