For the first time in mock convention history at Nikiski Middle-High School a candidate who was not originally on the ballot to be elected as president, led in voting among the 341 delegates.
Robert Downey Jr. — or comic book and cinema hero “Iron Man” — won 116 votes with Gov. Mitt Romney coming in a close second with 102 votes according to a review of the votes counted.
While the votes for Iron Man were a source of laughter for several attendees who cheered and applauded when delegates announced votes for the superhero, the day wasn’t all about jokes.
Central to the debate were 13 resolutions that more than 100 students spoke for or against.
The topics ranged from local issues including one which would have required school uniforms — which failed — to national ones including a resolution requiring students to be implanted with RFID tracking chips — which also failed.
They did pass a resolution requiring welfare recipients to pass drug tests.
Orren Hyatt, senior, state delegate leader from Montana, said the topics were generated by students.
“They wanted to go from the things that got the students all riled up — like the dress code has been a huge issue this year — all the way up to state secession, drug testing for welfare and legalizing marijuana,” Hyatt said. “They’re hoping that by the time everybody was going to be so into it that people would actually start standing up.”
While not every student spoke, a vocal majority cheered on those who did speak out in support or opposition to the resolutions.
Annaleah Ernst, co-chair of the convention, said she was excited to see younger students participating.
“All these kids who don’t often voice what they think in the school were out there speaking their minds,” she said. “My first mock convention was in the eighth grade and I remember speaking and being totally terrified of the student body. Especially because, at the time, I was one of the few Democrats in the school so I was not very appreciated by the student body. But it was a very good experience.”
Each resolution was broken up into three parts where those speaking for and against them were allowed a few minutes to speak.
Some, like Shaylee Rizzo, delegate from New Hampshire, found their opinions loudly booed by the student body.
She spoke out against a resolution which would have required school lunches to return to a larger portion to fulfill the student body’s hunger at the lunch hour.
“If we had more food, it would cost more money to buy it and what do you think that would do to the school lunch prices?” Rizzo said. “There’s always food in the trash, so that is why I’m against this resolution.”
Others, like a delegate from Texas who spoke out against having RFID chips implanted in the student body, found their opinions cheered uproriously.
“I’m against this because it’s probably the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” he said before being drowned in the din of yelling and applause. “No, but seriously. I agree that it’s creepy that teachers are watching you wherever you’re at. In Bird’s class yesterday we were discussing this and I said I would cut it out myself and I would.”
Bob Bird, a history teacher at Nikiski Middle-High School, has been incorporating the convention into his curriculum since 1984.
After each resolution had been roundly debated, a voice vote was taken to determine which side had won.
Some issues, like one which would have required mandatory firearm use and safety classes to become part of the high school curriculum in Alaska, took several voice votes to determine who won. That resolution passed.
In between debates over resolutions, several local politicians spoke to the student body about civic engagement.
Borough Mayor Mike Navarre was one of seven guest speakers to speak to the students. Other guests included state Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage; Alaska Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski; Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche; Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska; state Rep. and U.S. House Democratic candidate Sharon Cissna; and Ron Devon, an independent candidate for state senate.
Navarre told students they were lucky to be participating in a mock convention program that had been going every four years for nearly thirty years.
“I’ve attendend conventions at the state level and one convention at the national level and you’ve really captured the excitement and the enthusiasm,” he said.
Navarre told students the first time he ran for political office was in junior high school.
“I had to give a speech in front of my entire class,” he said. “It was the single most embarrassing moment in my political career. It’s actually amazing that after I went through it that I ever ran for political office again.”
He had been told by a teacher to pause for dramatic effect at the end of each sentence, an admonition he took seriously, Navarre said.
Then in a loud, dramatically slow voice Navarre began his decades-old stump speech for the students gathered in the gymnasium.
“My name is Mike Navarre,” he said, before pausing for several seconds.
Several students giggled.
“I want to be your vice president,” Navarre said, again pausing for a long period.
The giggles turned to laughter.
“Pretty soon the whole place was laughing their heads off,” Navarre said. “I was embarrassed, I rushed through the rest of the speech and won the election on a landslide.”
Hyatt said he could empathize with the nervousness.
“Some of these kids will choke because of how stressing it can be,” Hyatt said. “It’s really hard to stand up in front of the whole school because if you say something stupid ... nobody is going to want to be like ‘I know that kid.’”
Hyatt said he attended his first mock convention when he was an eighth-grader.
In fact, Hyatt was so vocal during his first mock convention that students who watched the video from the 2008 convention cheered racously for him when he rose to speak this year.
“I said a lot of things,” he said. “We were talking about gay rights and we talked about legalizing marijuana, which back then, I was against.”
During the last four years, Hyatt said he’s learned a lot about civics and politics, especially from Bird.
“You don’t have to be, like, widely known to be able to go to a convention and actually have your voice heard,” he said. “You just got to get in on the comiitee. Mr. Bird has taught us all that we need to actually be into this and exercise our rights because they’re slowly eroding and eventually we’re not going to be allowed to speak out.”
Editors note: The first paragraph in this story was changed to reflect the fact that while Robert Downey Jr. "Iron Man" gained a significant amount of the vote he did not gain a "majority" which would have awarded him the convention's nomination for president. He would have needed 170 votes to gain the nomination.
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.