Local student represents Minnesota at Boys Nation

Spengler with Sen. Tina Smith in her office

NEW ULM — New Ulm high school student Peter Spengler has returned from the 2018 American Legion Boys Nation in Washington, D.C.

From July 20 to July 28, Spengler served as one of the two delegates representing Minnesota. He previously attended Minnesota American Legion Boys State in June, and was selected to move on to the national level.

Spengler said he first became interested in Boys State after attending the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the New Ulm Cemetery. The local Boys State delegates always speak at the ceremony, which familiarized Spengler with Boys State.

Each year the New Ulm American Legion Post sponsors the New Ulm high school Boys State delegate, and the previous year’s delegate helps nominate candidates. Spengler learned more about the program from last year’s delegate Jacob Todd.

“He talked to me about it, and it sounded like a lot of fun,” Spengler said. Not long after, he was selected to attend in 2018.

At Boys State, Spengler and the other boys learned the finer points of local and state-level politics, over a week-long period.

“The councilors get you started for the first couple of days,” he said. “But after the first two days, it’s with no councilor involvement.” This gives the boys real hands-on experiences with politics. It was the same procedure for Boys Nation, but involved federal politics.

In Minnesota, the delegates for Boys Nation are chosen via a competitive selection process. The boys are divided into 10 ‘city’ groups, and the top boy from each group is selected for consideration.

Spengler was one of the 10 selected out of a total of 270 high school juniors attending Minnesota’s Boys State. Following an interview, he and Joseph Privratsky from Blaine were selected to move on to Boys Nation in Washington, D.C.

Spengler became the first delegate from the New Ulm area to attend Boys Nation and experience how federal government functions.

“You are the Senate, and you follow the rules as they are right now,” Spengler said. Delegates introduce bills which are sent to various committees for consideration and hopefully voted into law.

The process of passing legislation at Boys Nation is nearly as challenging as the real-life equivalent, but against all odds, Spengler was successful. Of the 129 pieces of legislation submitted by Boys Nation delegates, only 13 passed. Most bills never made it out of committee.

Spengler’s bill dealt with the sensitive subject of immigration reform, which is something the real U.S. Congress cannot seem to pass.

His bill called for a path to citizenship for DACA recipients, codifying ICE enforcement to focus on the deportation of illegal immigrants with criminal records, and funding immigration courts and reception centers for asylum seekers to prevent the separation of children from their families.

Spengler said immigration and keeping it an inclusive process have always been important to him.

“People come to America for a reason, and I think the American dream should be open,” he said.

Enough of the delegates at Boys State agreed with Spengler, because his bill passed 51 to 42, which was the second closest vote of the 2018 session.

In addition to working with Boys Nation, Spengler was able to see the nation’s capital. This was his first trip to Washington, D.C.

“It was super cool to see all the places that I hear about in the news,” he said.

The boys visited Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the memorials for World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, Arlington National Cemetery, Holocaust Museum and Library of Congress.

The boys explored Capitol Hill. Spengler visited the real-world Minnesota senators and a few other big-name politicians, such as Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer. The boys were unable to meet the president, but Vice-President Mike Pence was on hand to speak with them.

Spengler said sight-seeing was fun, but the most important part of Boys Nation was meeting everyone and being friends with his fellow delegates.

“I still talk to them every day,” he sad. “I feel like these are people I will know my whole life.”

Boys Nation is a jumping-off point for future careers. Alumni include former president Bill Clinton, athlete Michael Jordan, present U.S. senators, governors, ambassadors, military, business and other prominent leaders.

“I had two goals, meet as many people as possible and become friends with them on a personal level, and the second was to get my bill passed,” he said.

Spengler feels he was successful in both goals, and accomplishing them required a lot of work and late hours. He estimated that in his week at Boys Nation, he slept a total of 30 hours.

After his experience at Boys State and Boys Nation, Spengler is using the remainder of his summer to participate in the college application process.

Whether or not his experience at Boys Nation will lead to a life in politics, Spengler cannot say. He has not ruled out the possibility, but said he has many interests. At this time, he wants to attend college at MIT or the military service academies. No matter where he attends school, he plans to do ROTC training.