Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Boys and Girls State Minnesota instills civics in students who create a government in a week

Governor-elect of girl's and boy's state
In the left photo is Toluca Tellaeche Ramirez (left), governor-elect at Girl's State. In the right photo is Tucker Fournier (middle) with his parents, governor-elect at Boy's State. Both took part in the weeklong summer leadership and citizenship program.
Courtesy of Toluca Tellaeche Ramirez and Tucker Fournier

Do you remember what you did last week? I’m guessing most of you didn’t create an entire government with people you have never met — and then run for office, pass laws, or decide court cases. That’s what two groups of high school students in Minnesota were up to. Boys State and Girls State are separate, weeklong programs run by the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary, respectively.

Toluca Tellaeche Ramirez, an incoming senior at Pine Island High School and this year’s Minnesota Girls State Governor elect, joined MPR News Host Cathy Wurzer to share more about this crash course in the workings of government.

Tucker Fournier, an incoming senior at Maple Grove High School and this year's Boys State Governor elect also joined the conversation.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Do you remember what you did last week? I'm guessing most of you did not create an entire government with people you have never met and then run for office, pass laws, or decide court cases. That's what two groups of high school students in Minnesota were up to last week. Boys State and Girls State are separate week-long programs run by the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary, respectively.

Joining us to tell us more about this crash course and the workings of government is Toluca Tellaeche Ramirez, an incoming senior at Pine Island High School and this year's Minnesota Girls State governor elect. Also with us is Tucker Fournier, incoming senior at Maple Grove High School and this year's Boys State governor elect. Toluca and Tucker, welcome. Thanks for taking the time.

TOLUCA TELLAECHE RAMIREZ: Thank you for having me.

TUCKER FOURIER: Yeah, thank you for having me, too.

CATHY WURZER: I appreciate your time. Say, I'm thinking some of your school friends might have thought, oh, gosh, Boys State, Girls State, boring, when you told them you were going to these events. What sparked your interest? Tucker, I'm going to begin with you.

TUCKER FOURIER: So my dad actually did Boys State when he was a 17-year-old. So he highly encouraged me to do it. And just, I thought it was not something I'd be into at all. And I thought it was a little bit crazy. But he encouraged me to go for it. And I do not regret going at all. It was one of the most fantastic experiences I've ever had.

CATHY WURZER: Good for you. Toluca, what sparked your interest?

TOLUCA TELLAECHE RAMIREZ: Well, when I got an email from my school about sign-ups coming up for Girls State, I didn't know exactly what it was. And then I figured out that Linda Kelly, the chairperson there for the Girls State auxiliary, was helping running it. So I was like, I know her, and she's a mentor of mine. So I just-- [AUDIO OUT] and it was for, like, a mock government and about politics and that really-- [AUDIO OUT] student leader at my school. So I was already in [AUDIO OUT].

CATHY WURZER: OK. So you're ready in leadership at school. So this was in your wheelhouse, kind of. You're breaking up just a little bit, Toluca. I'm sorry about that. Say, I want folks to know that these programs kind of use fictional political parties. I believe it's the Nationalists and the Federalists. And you're assigned to be in one of those parties randomly. I'm just curious here, Tucker, when you got into the issues, how did it all start? Did you break into-- did you start electing positions? Did you start diving into issues? What was the first few steps?

TUCKER FOURIER: So kind of the first stage is our cities. We don't have political parties yet. So we form our cities. And I was in the city of Mankato. And we go through just basic city stuff. And this is our first stage, so it helps us learn. Then we move on to our county. This is where we get assigned a party. I was assigned to Nationalists. So it's 50/50 Nationalist, Federalist.

I was a Nationalist, so I attended the county Nationalist convention, which then we voted delegates. And I was a delegate for the Nationalist party caucus. And we then get endorsed through the party caucus. And after that, we get moved into the final campaigning for official offices. But the parties, we start completely blank. We get to decide if we want to tackle Boys State issues, if we want to tackle real-life issues, and what our goals as a party is as we develop our platforms.

CATHY WURZER: So tell me about your party's platform.

TUCKER FOURIER: So some of the main ones, we try to stay pretty moderate to try to include everyone and not create division. Some of the ones that we supported were for Boys State issues, in particular. We supported playing cards at Boys State and also clarification of quiz material. There's-- [CHUCKLES] --a lot of miscommunication among the quizzes.

So those are some of the more funny ones. And then for real-life issues, one of the main ones as a party were better prison rehabilitation. That was one that we all felt pretty strongly about and thought that some good reform could be used.

CATHY WURZER: OK, now Toluca is back with us. Toluca, we were talking about the Nationalists and the Federalists. Which party were you a part of, the Federalists or the Nationalists?

TOLUCA TELLAECHE RAMIREZ: I was a part of the Nationalist party.

CATHY WURZER: OK. And what was your platform, your party platform?

TOLUCA TELLAECHE RAMIREZ: My party platform was based on rehabilitation for veterans, so preventing homelessness as soon as they get out of service. And then we also focused heavily on women's rights, as well.

CATHY WURZER: What was the most exciting part of this experience for you, Toluca?

TOLUCA TELLAECHE RAMIREZ: Well, the most exciting part of this was learning how a government works because this is what it's based on, Girls State is, and how much I did not know about government and how many of my friends-- I found out that they're all leaders and that they're very well spoken, no matter how shy they are and that I was so impressed by the intelligence of all of the girls that were there.

CATHY WURZER: Give us a sense that you were surprised that you learned so much about government. Do you have government classes in your school? I mean, is that part of the social studies curriculum?

TOLUCA TELLAECHE RAMIREZ: Yes, we do have government classes at my school and college classes, as well. We focus mainly on the parties, political parties, and what they focused on, and not necessarily the process when you go something as small as the city up to the state level.

CATHY WURZER: Sure, I understand. Say, Tucker, this is a presidential election year. And there are a lot of young folks who are just not very happy with the candidates. They're kind of disillusioned. They're a little frustrated with the candidates and the current political system. Since you had an up-close look at how government functions, what are your thoughts on this upcoming election?

TUCKER FOURIER: Well, first off, I would just say it's super important to vote. The secretary of state came and spoke to us at Boys State and just stressed the importance that-- and our civic duty-- it is to vote. There's not enough young people in the United States that vote. And a consequence of that is there's many young people who feel underrepresented.

So one of the big things we learned is that our voice does matter. And if you don't participate, you won't be heard. The people who lead the world are the ones who show up. And I also think that it's one of the things I learned at Boys State and practice was it's incredibly important to respect someone no matter their political beliefs.

I heard very varying political beliefs and very extreme political beliefs. So I was at Boys State. But it was also incredibly important that you sit there and you listen to them, and you come to an understanding of why they believe that. It helps with conversation. And it's for the greater good if we respect one another and operate as one instead of divided.

CATHY WURZER: Toluca, kind of a similar question, I guess. Do you think participating in Girls State has changed how you view our political process?

TOLUCA TELLAECHE RAMIREZ: I believe that my view has changed. When I went to Girls State, a lot of us were unified. If not, I would say most of us. It was pretty safe atmosphere to talk about your opinions. And I feel that a lot of the girls agreed on the same stuff because of the discrimination that we have faced throughout our lives. So it was pretty easy to openly talk about what issues we've dealt with and how we want to fix them and that we are the change and the leaders that we can become in this world.

CATHY WURZER: So do you think that you might want to work in politics in the future, Toluca?

TOLUCA TELLAECHE RAMIREZ: Yes, I do. I talked with Governor Tim Walz for a little bit. And I've also met some of his cabinet members and his assistants. And I can, for sure, say that I see myself in a future of politics and government.

CATHY WURZER: All right. And, Tucker, how about you?

TUCKER FOURIER: [CHUCKLES] Well, I love politics. So it's definitely-- I mean, it's one of my career paths that I've put a lot of thought into. But I guess we'll just need to see. I'm not sure. There's a lot of things that I like, so I guess we'll see. But I do think that after this experience, no matter what I end up doing in life, I will always try to stay connected, whether it's at local government or state.

CATHY WURZER: I'm glad to hear that. So when you both decide to launch your political campaigns, you know who to call first to make that announcement. [CHUCKLES] I wish you both well. I'm glad you had a great experience. Thanks for sharing it.

TUCKER FOURIER: Yeah, thank you for having us.

TOLUCA TELLAECHE RAMIREZ: Thank you very much.

CATHY WURZER: Absolutely. Toluca Ramirez has been with us. She's the governor of Minnesota Girls State 2024 and a rising senior at Pine Island High School. Tucker Fournier is governor of Minnesota Boys State 2024 and a rising senior at Maple Grove High School.

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