Boys State teaches how government works

Alisa Boswell: PNT staff writer Chase Keeling-Atwood, 17, left, and Stone Shoaf, 16, discuss who will fill specific positions in their state government offices Wednesday afternoon during the 2011 New Mexico Boys’ State program. Keeling-Atwood serves as New Mexico state governor in the program and Shoaf as lieutenant governor.

Alisa Boswell

Fictional New Mexico state government campaigns are in the works this week at Eastern New Mexico University as the 64th annual New Mexico Boys’ State takes place in Portales.

The program’s mission statement: “To educate the youth of New Mexico in the duties, privileges, rights and responsibilities of true American citizenship.”

The program began in 1935 when World War I veterans decided the youth of America needed to know more about government. Participants include New Mexico high school juniors who operate their own city, county and state governments throughout a one week period.

Director of Activities Mike Moye said the program, which has had up to 400 participants in past years, has a little more than 100 high school students from across New Mexico.

“We try to relate all of the government to New Mexico as much as possible,” Moye said. “We look for leaders, not in academics, but who are active socially and in their communities. This gives a lot of them a chance to show their best qualities.”

Moye said when the students arrived at the ENMU campus Sunday afternoon, they were assigned fictional cities within New Mexico and began electing city officials. They were then moved to county government then to state.

He said the students, who have 14- to 16-hour days during the program, operate their governments the same way any real city or county does, all the way from paying taxes and receiving citations to running the city as mayor and the state as governor.

“It’s been incredible,” said Chase Keeling-Atwood, 17, a junior from Hobbs who was elected New Mexico state governor. “It’s been by far one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

Atwood said after hearing a presentation on Monday on what being governor entailed, he knew it was the job for him because he is someone who “likes to get things done.”

Atwood’s lieutenant governor, Stone Shoaf, 16, of Alamagordo, said it takes students of an ambitious nature to be involved in the program.

“There are unbelievably intelligent people here,” he said. “I consider myself to be smart and I work really hard in school, but here, everyone is like that.”

Tony Navarrete, secretary and treasurer for the program, said the program is 100 percent volunteer operated each year and all funds are provided by the American Legion of New Mexico.

He said although the program is national, each state operates their own. At the end of the program, two boys will be chosen to go to the national level where they will campaign for U.S. presidency.

“They learn by doing,” Navarrete said. “We give them a direction and they run with it.”

Moye said in the last five years, the program has seen a continuous improvement in the quality of students who participate.

“We are very optimistic of the future of the state with the individuals we’ve seen come through the program the last five years,” he said. “We really look forward to advertising the program more next year and getting more boys involved.”