Boys get lesson in government

Kevin Wilson

Deg Gordon is celebrating his 25th year as a part of New Mexico Boys’ State, but he’s probably not going to get a silver platter or anything of the sort.
That’s just fine by him, as he’ll be more than satisfied with the same thing he gets most years: a pin for his hat, new friends and lifelong memories.
“I think you’ll find that the caliber of these young men will change,” Gordon said Monday night. “I have run into people on the street I haven’t seen in years. They tell me about Boys’ State and how it changed them.”
Gordon and other volunteer staff members welcomed approximately 220 new members this week on the campus of Eastern New Mexico University.
The session is in its 56th year and its seventh consecutive on the ENMU campus. According to the session’s program, Boys’ State began in Illinois in 1935 and was adopted a year later as an American Legion program a year later with Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The purpose of the program gives students a chance to build their own government. Incoming seniors from high schools across the state are divided into six cities, which are also organized into three counties.
Gordon is a city counselor, which means he lives with the students at Lincoln Hall for the duration of the session. However, his role is not to be a babysitter.
“Once they elect their city officials, they’re on their own,” says Gordon, who sports a long gray handlebar mustache and a red cap full of pins from previous Boys’ State sessions.
Until Friday, the boys will work through the levels of government, first electing officials at the city level. From there, members vote on county leadership and eventually nominate candidates for state positions.
Also, two members will be chosen as state delegates. Those delegates will attend Boys’ Nation, which is held July 18-26 in Arlington, Va.
Representation is different based on the size of high schools. Clovis High had eight representatives, while Portales High had two (Ryan Martin and James Nance). The staff at Boys’ State works to make sure high school loyalty is temporarily shelved in favor of city loyalty.
“You get 10 kids from the same high school, but they won’t be around each other at the same time,” said Tony Navarrete, the associate director of the session. “They form friendships that last a lifetime, plus they get working knowledge of the government.”
Some ideas from previous sessions have, in fact, been sent on to the governor’s office for consideration in the state legislature, Navarrete said.
Early on, the staff has no complaints about this crop of Boys’ State members.
“They stay focused, they’re very enthusiastic,” said Ralph Kemp, the director of the session. Kemp is a former “stater,” as are many other staffers. Other staff members are military veterans, as the program is sponsored by the American Legion.
The staff of approximately 40 is all volunteer, and Navarrete said that Boys’ State would be impossible without the sacrifice that staff members make to come to Portales one week every year.
“They give up a week of their time to be here,” Navarrete said. “Some give up even more, because they use their vacation to come.”
The session technically ends with an evaluation from Kemp on Thursday evening, but officially ends with checkout Friday morning.