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Real lessons, fake politics at annual Boys State

By Bethany Knipp

Hundreds of high school boys are getting a crash course about the ins and outs of state government this week at Kansas State University.

Four hundred sixty-eight soon-to-be senior boys have taken over the Kramer Dining Complex with simulated governmental meetings for the annual Boys State, sponsored by the American Legion.

“It helps them learn how the government works,” director of Boys State operations Troy Fowler said. “I think it helps them develop their own political views and things.”

From schools across Kansas, the boys are elected or appointed into political positions and simulate the passage of legislation, representing imaginary cities and counties that make up the state. (Girls State, meanwhile,also took place this week at Washburn University.)

This week’s big one was a budget, said Boys State House member Matt Mindrup, 17, of Hays.

“This huge fight exploded between the House and the Senate and it was really stressful and it was all because of one communication error, but we got it passed and it was good,” Mindrup said.

After trying to send the budget to the Senate several times for passage, Mindrup said at one point, the wrong piece of paper was sent, causing Boys State upheaval.

“It was just because we gave them the wrong budget on accident,” he said.

Mindrup, a member of the conservative Federalist Party is chair of Committee on the Department on Engergy. He said the Senate got an emissions bill passed, an endeavor more successful than the budget crisis.

Mindrup said at Boys State he’s learned what it really takes to get things done.

“A lot of people complain about what the government does and what they don’t do, but a lot of people don’t know how the government works, so I guess it helped me realize how much harder it is to get stuff passed,” Mindrup said. “When you have a lot of conflicting personalities, I guess they do, too.”

Some members of Boys State seem as if they’re actually in office, including the Boys State Governor Clayton Covington, 17, of Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park.

Covington skipped the casual T-shirts and shorts that most of the delegates were wearing and wore a suit on Thursday. He was stopped by multiple Boys State delegates everywhere he went.

Covington said to get elected governor he was advised to “not make any enemies,” have the proper real-life qualifications and to be personable.

“I’ve told every single delegate here that if there’s anything they need to talk to me about I’m more than willing to be approached about these things,” Covington said.

Secretary of the House and member of the liberal Nationalist Party Alec Onstab, 17, of Colby said he’s also getting his fair share of good experience at Boys State, having learned to keep an open mind to possibilities and others’ views.

“I’ve definitely learned to work with people and always tried to communicate and get the other person’s perspective,” Onstab said.

“You have to keep in mind you got your [own] opinion from somewhere and you had to have an open mind to get that opinion,” he said.

Onstab also went through the budget dispute and he said it taught him that communication is key.

“Even you’re in this big dispute, you have to consider that everyone is thinking different things and you have to calm yourself down and focus on what needs to be done versus what is happening,” he said.

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