When former President Bill Clinton ran for the nation’s highest office in 1992, his campaign commercials featured a moment when he met President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
It was through the American Legion’s Boys State and Boys Nation program that Clinton was afforded that opportunity.
Now, Pueblo West’s Aaron Lombardi will get the honor of meeting the President of the United States.
Lombardi, who will be a Pueblo West High School senior, was elected as one of two state senators out of 211 delegates at last week’s Boys State, held at CSU-Pueblo.
According to Boys State adviser, Jay O’Niel, Lombardi is the first Pueblo West student to be elected senator at Boys State.
As a state senator, Lombardi will be in Washington, D.C. July 21-29 for Boys Nation, where the agenda includes assemblies of all Boys State senators, tours of national monuments, a wreath presentation at Arlington National Cemetery, meetings with Colorado senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, and a meeting with the President Donald Trump.
“The thing I’m looking forward to the most is meeting the President,” Lombardi said. “Regardless of my own political views, it is the highest office in the land. That’s probably one of the coolest things.”
No matter the experiences ahead of Lombardi on his upcoming Boys Nation trip in July, his experience at Boys State from June 4-10 was a seminal experience.
“The American Legion markets Boys State as ‘a week to change a lifetime,'” Lombardi said, “and they definitely do that. It was a life-changing experience.”
Boys State simulates the civic and electoral process by forming city, county and state governments as well as a supreme court, showing participants the process of passing bills through committee then the legislature, solving social problems at various governmental levels.
Lombardi was particularly intersted in the electoral process that Boys State emulates.
As part of forming mock governments, particpants can run for office in city, county or state governments.
Lombardi chose to run for senator, the highest office at Boys State, eventually making it through a mock nomination and primary process to be elected one of two senators.
Lombardi said he prepared for his senatorial run.
“You can’t bring anything premade (prior to Boys State), but I kind of had stuff prepared,” Lombardi said. “We received advice (from past Boys State participants) that everybody there had the same amazing accomplishments, so you have to do something to set yourself apart. So the approach I took was to be more light-hearted.”
The electoral process for the senate position consisted of three speeches of 30 seconds, one minute then two minutes, paring down 13 candidates to just four.
From there, the two candidates to win the nomination from mock political parties, the Federalists and the Nationalists, were named senators.
Lombardi said the campaigns emulated the political process, both its strengths and weaknesses.
“Regardless of who’s the most qualified for the job,” Lombardi explained glibly, “it’s who can actually win the election too, just like real politics.”
Lombardi, who volunteered on Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2016, said he wants to pursue a career in politics, either as a campaign manager, a legislative aide or even a candidate.
He said he found Boys State and the election process inspiring.
“The first thing it taught me was that I can do a lot of stuff I didn’t think I could do,” Lombardi said. “I know I want to get into politics, but I never actually thought I could win an office. Saying you are going to do something and actually doing it is one of the best feelings.”
More than the professional implications, Lombardi said, the experience of Boys State gave him lifelong friends.
“I got to meet so many great people,” Lombardi said. “Everyone in my ‘city’ became great friends, and we all have an Instagram and Snapchat group chat that we use to keep in touch.”
He said the opportunity afforded by Boys State, one of many student legislative programs but probably the most heralded, was unique.
“One of the coolest things was that the program is all free,” Lombardi said. “Everybody, regardless of their income background, gets a chance to experience it too.”
Throughout the week the delegates got a strong introduction of Americanism performing daily flag raising and lowing ceremonies. They met two Metal of Honor recipients, Drew Dix of Pueblo and Ty Carter of Colorado Springs. They also met State Senator Leroy Garcia and State House Representative Clarice Navarro, both of Pueblo.
In the local delegation, which included Lombardi and Garrett Kristan, O’Niel and Ray Nadeau, the American Legion Post 207’s Boys State Liaison Officer, was an Advisor of the City of DeHerrera. Jay O’Niel was an Advisor for the City of Green. Swallows Charter Academy graduate and alumni Boys State participant Xavier Mercer-Roberts served as a counselor.