McDonnell elected Speaker of House

Mindy Carls
Rob McDonnell of Lynn Center was elected Speaker of the House at the American Legion’s Premier Boys State earlier this month at Eastern Illinois University, Charleston.

Rob McDonnell of Lynn Center played a role in a history-making week at Premier Boys State.

Sponsored by the American Legion, Boys State teaches the fundamentals of citizenship and patriotism to young men who have just finished their junior year of high school.

Andover American Legion Post chose McDonnell, a student at Orion High School, to attend Boys State from Saturday, June 7, through Friday, June 13.

George Rose of the Orion American Legion helped make arrangements for McDonnell to go to Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, for the week-long event.

McDonnell was the only OHS student to attend, partly because of a conflict with a band trip to Denver.

He said there will always be another band trip, but Boys State is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

McDonnell knew that because his brother, Jon, attended Boys State two years ago.

“He told me a lot about it, and he said it would be really fun,” Rob said. “I aspired to a lot of what he told me.”

A lot of boys sit around and become bored, but Rob followed Jon’s advice to become active and have fun.

McDonnell decided to run for office. Boys were assigned to mythical cities in mythical counties, and elections were held to fill offices ranging from city alderman to state governor.

On the first full day, Sunday, June 8, McDonnell was elected state representative from Sanzotta City in Conatser County.

A day later, McDonnell was elected Speaker of the House. Representatives chose him over Kevin Dore of Naperville. As the runner-up, Dore became Clerk of the House. He was from Stelle County.

Dore challenged the two-party system at Boys State, which randomly assigns participants to the Federalist or Nationalist parties.

McDonnell said Dore wanted one young man put on the ballot as a candidate for governor, but neither party was going to nominate him.

Challenging the two-party system, Dore argued that the Boys State constitution protected freedom of speech—including the freedom to express views different from those the Federalist and Nationalist parties represented.

He took his argument from county court through circuit court and appellate court all the way to the Supreme Court of Boys State, McDonnell said.

The Supreme Court agreed with Dore and struck down the two-party limit.

All the appeals took a full day and kept Dore away from his duties as clerk, McDonnell noted.

The Supreme Court decision left it up to the legislature to determine how third parties should be included in the electoral process at Boys State.

Dore asked McDonnell to help pass the legislation needed to get a third party on the ballot.

McDonnell did not know if it was possible, but he agreed to try. The legislation had to be passed by 8 p.m. if the third party was going to be on the ballot the next day.

House members were not scheduled to meet in the evening, but by 7:29 p.m. McDonnell had a quorum and called the session to order.

Representatives grumbled about the meeting, McDonnell said. In the face of calls to shut it down, he gave Dore and another citizen a chance to explain the legislation they wanted.

The legislation did not pass this year, but in 2009 Boys State citizens will be able to form third parties if they want to, McDonnell said.

He pointed out the first day of Boys State is hectic and confusing, and giving citizens the option of forming a third party will add to the confusion.

As their adviser, McDonnell and his fellow representatives had Michael Flanagan of Chicago, who served one term in the U.S. House in the mid-1990s.

“He kept saying how useless the Senate is,” McDonnell said.

Flanagan’s statement proved to be true, the Boys State speaker said.

“The Senate didn’t pass anything of its own but kept rejecting House legislation, so nothing became law,” McDonnell said.

Serving as speaker was the best part of the experience for the Orion senior. Citizens gave him bills they wanted introduced in the House.

Boys were given a chance to learn how municipal, state and federal governments work, he said.

Each morning from Tuesday, June 10, through Friday, June 13, boys attended seminars on how the legislative, executive and judicial branches work and how elections are conducted.

In school he had learned about state and federal governments, but not about municipal governments.

Boys State inspired him and made him a better citizen, McDonnell said.

During one seminar, he learned about an 18-year-old who was elected village president. Every day after school, the 18-year-old goes to village hall for meetings.

Young people have new ideas, McDonnell said. They want to affect what happens to them.

McDonnell plans to attend college and study science or history. When he settles down with a family, he plans to be active in his community. He may run for village president or school board.

“Programs like this show you what you can do to make your community what you want,” McDonnell said.

School board members usually are parents with children in school, he said. Why not have a student?

“You can affect how your school career is doing,” McDonnell said.

The Orion student was named Model Citizen of his city and county. McDonnell said he took the week more seriously than others, and their apathy bothered him.

When he was competing for Model Citizen of the county, he was asked what Boys State could do to attract more students. An event that usually draws 2,000 boys had only 600 to 800 this year.

McDonnell’s answer was that Boys State was fun, but students have to achieve a certain maturity to be interested in coming. Many of them already have interests and stick with them.

“My generation really doesn’t care about what other generations see as important,” he said.

Each day at Boys State opens with a flag ceremony. McDonnell said it was too early for some. They slept through the ceremony.

“I was ashamed for those kids,” he said. Veterans who conducted the ceremony had fought for the flag, and the emotions they felt when raising it were obvious.

Current events, such as genocide in Africa, show McDonnell that “other places in the world are not like this.”

“You personally don’t have to respect the flag—you have the freedom not to—but at least in front of veterans respect the flag because of what it means to them,” he said.

Now that he’s all fired up about participating in the democratic process, McDonnell has to deal with one disappointment.

At 17 years and 11 months old, he will be too young to participate in the next presidential election, which could make history with the election of the first black president and first woman vice president.