Minnesota Boys State turns 75

By Tim Engstrom
Past Boys Nation President Greg Orman, who is a Mankato East graduate, speaks June 8 at Anoka Post 102 for the 75th Anniversary Banquet of Minnesota Boys State. He spoke on the need for less partisanship in America and how veterans are trusted to lead the country forward.

Past Boys Nation President Greg Orman speaks on political division

Minnesota Boys State Director Kyle Oldre of Hardwick Post 478 speaks at the banquet for the 75th anniversary of Minnesota Boys State.

ANOKA — Greg Orman got to meet U.S. President Ronald Reagan after being elected president of Boys Nation in 1986. He graduated from Mankato East High School in 1987.

He attended Princeton University, and in 1988, while in New York City, he witnessed a scared father with two daughters on the subway. Crime in the Big Apple was six times the rate it is today.

“I thought, I want to give that man confidence in life,” he told attendees of the Minnesota Boys State 75th Anniversary Banquet on June 8 at Anoka Post 102. “I realized my father was right. I wanted to put the lessons of Boys Nation in play.”

He followed his father’s advice, and that was to gain economic security first. In the Kansas City area, he built a lighting concepts company into a $1 billion business, then co-founded a private equity firm, then launched a fitness company. He also is a partner in the ownership of the building on Hennepin Avenue that houses the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Then he made his foray into politics.

Minnesota Boys State counselors past and present, along with spouses, recent governors and longtime supporters, enjoyed a meal together June 8 at Anoka American Legion Post 102.

Previously, Orman had registered at times as a Republican and others as a Democrat.

“Partisanship had replaced problem solving and getting things done,” he said. “The fears of John Adams had come true. Loyalty to party now is greater than loyalty to country.”

Adams, the second U.S. president, once said, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

Orman became a proponent of the “fulcrum strategy” for the U.S. Senate, whereby a third group of elected senators would have just enough numbers to deny a majority to either of the two major parties. He and others couldn’t find anyone brave enough to run outside the party.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Hank Shea speaks on June 8 at Anoka Post 102 for the 75th anniversary banquet.

In 2014, he ran for U.S. Senate as an independent in Kansas. Orman, in fact, was ahead of incumbent Pat Roberts after Democrat Chad Taylor dropped out and many conservative groups were endorsing Orman.

Orman had campaign funding from left and right sources. However, the Republican Party led an unprecedented rescue campaign for Roberts to convince Kansas voters Orman is a Democrat. If Orman had won, the Senate would have had three independent senators.

Orman met former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole shortly after the narrow loss. Dole told him if he had said he was a Republican he would be in the Senate now.

“But would I get anything done after being elected?” Orman asked.

Dole admitted, “No.”

State Sen. Zach Duckworth of Lakeville speaks June 8 at the 75th anniversary banquet. Behind him is Past Director Mike Bredeck of Prinsburg.

Orman’s book is “Declaration of Independents” and is about how political independence leaves citizens free of obligations to special interests and party bosses.

Orman said Minnesota Boys State had a huge impact on his life and remains so today, always reminding him to remain above the fray of polarization.

“Division is at its highest level since the Civil War,” he said. He cited recent polls about trust. “Trust in institutions has gone the wrong way. The only group of people with growing trust — is veterans. You are going to have to continue to lead the way out of darkness.”

The 75th Anniversary Banquet featured Past National Commander Dan Ludwig, state Sen. and Past Boys State Gov. Zach Duckworth, Boys State Director Kyle Oldre, Past Boys State Director Mike Bredeck, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Hank Shea and Boys State Dean David Way.

Oldre also read a statement from Past Boys State Director Tom Nelson, an Army captain who is currently deployed to the Mideast.

Nelson spelled out age-old problems causing war and strife for the Mideast and pointed out how, in contrast, programs like Boys State and Girls State foster tomorrow’s leaders in America.