WENDELL — Running for political office can be an eye-opening experience for anyone.
It’s even more of a learning experience if you’re 16 and you’re lobbying a small community of voters, each of whom has their own political aspirations. The political partnerships and deal-making seem like ready-made drama for a new reality show.
That’s exactly what Andrew Tolksdorf and Dennis Mack experienced. The rising seniors at Corinth Holders High School spent a week this summer taking part in Boys State North Carolina.
Sponsored by the American Legion, Boys State, and its counterpart Girls State, gives students some firsthand experience in the rough and tumble world of politics.
The delegates campaign for offices, then settle into the nitty-gritty work of running government, passing laws and learning the art of compromise.
Tolksdorf and Mack were sent to Boys State by the Cedric Harris American Legion Post 148 in Wendell.
On Thursday night, they visited the Post home and talked to a standing-room-only crowd of veterans, trying to explain what it was like competing with others and trying to make headway with budgets and natural catastrophes.
“You’ve got to have a heart of stone. We were making pretend budgets that affected pretend people. I don’t know if I could do it in real life with real people,” Tolksdorf said.
Mack said that, despite the rivalries the delegates, which hailed from all over the state, became friends.
“I made some very good friends. We were only there for a week, but it was very intense and you were working with these people so much, it was hard not to be come friends with some of them,” Mack said.
Boys State is set up to elect participants to a slate of state and local offices. Delegates can run for Governor, Secretary of State, Mayor, Town Aldermen and a host of other offices.
If a student doesn’t win his election, he can hop onto the candidate list for another office. Mack said he found the campaigning process a bit challenging.
“You think you have a deal with someone, then behind your back, they are making deals with other people,” said Mack who didn’t win any of the elections he entered. Ultimately, he was appointed to a seat in the state House of Representatives.
“That’s where they put everybody who didn’t win anything,” Mack said with a smile.
Tolksdorf won election as a town alderman, where he and his fellow aldermen struggled to put together a realistic budget, only to have it upended.
“We had a natural disaster and it hit our town the hardest. We had worked so hard to come up with a budget, but we had to start all over again from scratch,” Tolksdorf said.
American Legion members listened quietly until the students finished their presentation, then they peppered them with questions before Post Commander Ricky Ray presented Tolksdorf and Mack with certificates and pins commemorating their participation in the program.