Civics, current events lesson

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, December 30, 2017
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Boys State

BOYS STATE – Decatur seniors Alec Uselton, Charlie Doubrava and Ty Watson, pictured here with American Legion member and Denton County Assistant District Attorney Forest Beadle, participated in Texas Boys State June 11-15. Submitted photo

Over the summer, I was contacted about three Decatur students – Ty Watson, Alec Uselton and Charlie Doubrava – attending Texas Boys State.

As a history nerd and political science junkie, I thought it would be a fun profile to write.

I was fairly familiar with all three. I did features about Watson and Doubrava for baseball and cross country in the previous school year and had seen Uselton compete on the football and baseball field.

The three came up to the office and described the experience of going through the democratic process as if they were legislators in the Capitol.

All three campaigned for posts in the two parties – Federalist or Nationalist. Watson became the Federalist Whip. Doubrava earned a spot in the House of Representatives. Uselton bid for a State Board of Education spot and County Court of Law judge but didn’t get elected.

Like the Texas legislators that just finished regular session before they arrived at the Capitol, the students had to govern, draw up legislation and pass it. For them it was at a much accelerated pace.

“The whole process of 18 months was squashed into a week,” Doubrava explained.

Though members of opposing parties, Watson and Doubrava worked together on the agriculture and natural resources committee. The two drew up bi-partisan legislation that would allow farmers to use filtered grey water for crops. The bill, which offered farmers tax breaks for the initiative, passed.

It was one of a record 19 passed during the Texas Boys State session – something the Decatur trio were proud of.

But overshadowing the record number of bills was the decision for Texas to secede from the United States. Watson presented the case for Texas independence to the 1,100 members.

“Someone drew up the legislation and the Speaker of the House asked me to present it. I read the Declaration of Independence,” Watson recalled. “It was nerve-racking.”

I wrote the story in a motel room in Fredericksburg while attending a workshop and hadn’t anticipated much reaction to it. I was wrong.

Two days later, the Washington Post had a story out that included a link to my story. Quickly other publications from around the state were writing stories and also reaching out to talk to Watson, Doubrava and Uselton.

It came as a surprise to them also.

“It was funny how many people and the national news took it so serious,” Doubrava said. “We were not expecting that at all.

“Most of the bills we passed, like secession, were not serious bills. The realistic bills were the ones we couldn’t agree on and pass – like Congress.”

Uselton agreed: “We did it to be funny. We didn’t really want to secede. It was more out of pride and being Texan.”

When Watson was interviewed by one reporter, he didn’t feel comfortable with the line of questioning. He made the decision to call the reporter back to clarify his stance.

“I was nervous and didn’t answer the way I wanted. It was like he wrote the story, and I filled in the blanks,” Watson said. “When I regained my composure, I wanted to fix the things I said and say what I wanted to say.

“It was a great experience – Boys State and seeing how journalism works – looking at the Wise County Messenger, Star-Telegram and Washington Post stories. It was cool to see how the media worked.”

The three remain proud of the work and experience in the session. They also hope the added attention will get more local students involved.

“Alec and I had never heard of [Boys State] before being approached about it,” Watson said. “Hopefully this put it on the map for people in Wise County.

“We had a lot of people in the community asking about student-led government. We had a chance to explain what happened that week.”

And it at least got a few more young people talking and thinking about government, which is a good means to an end.

Richard Greene is the Messenger’s assistant editor.

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