By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
While voters have a hard decision to make this November come Election Day, one local teenager is campaigning and speaking out as if he were voting in this election.
Seventeen-year-old Ben Dirks from Monticello is not of the legal voting age, but you would never know it judging by his aggressive public speaking engagements, focused on politics. He’s attended a few events in Eastern Iowa and was named chairman of the Junior Delegation of the Iowa GOP state convention.
The Iowa GOP Convention was held on June 16. Dirks attended, and it wasn’t until during the event that he was voted chairman. Dirks explained the junior delegation, made up of about 50 youths, is for those under the age of 18. It allows young people to get involved in politics early on. During the junior delegation portion of the state convention, the youngsters gather separately from the adults and vote on a chairperson and secretary, as well as their planks they want to present to the Iowa GOP delegates. The planks, or party platforms, are items the political party wishes to focus on.
“This is about the biggest group they’ve had,” Dirks said of the junior delegation.
Dirks was voted as chairman by a vote of 17-15. After narrowing their planks down to a few, Dirks then gave a speech and presented the junior delegation’s planks to more than 2,000 people in attendance at the state GOP convention.
During his speech, Dirks held up a copy of the United States Constitution and Declaration of Independence, saying the “rules and laws are being violated by Barack Obama.”
Dirks, whose ideals and beliefs are more in line with the Republican Party, said he hoped those in attendance at the convention were not just there to support a certain candidate, but to support the ideas laid out by our forefathers.
“These are ideas that make us American,” said Dirks during his speech. “We’re a nation; we’re as strong as we adhere to the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.”
During his entire speech, Dirks was greeted with not just one, but two standing ovations. If you watch the footage of his speech on YouTube, you’ll notice he did not read from a teleprompter.
“It was completely off the cuff,” admitted Dirks. “I just winged it. I didn’t expect the response I got. It’s a great show of support for the youth.”
The planks presented included: a personhood amendment, parent-taught driver’s education and honoring and respecting the U.S. flag.
“It’s a banner of the USA that should be honored and revered for the values, principles and beliefs for which it stands,” Dirks declared in his speech. “The flag should always be displayed in public places!”
Trying to narrow 20 planks down to just three to present to the convention as a whole, Dirks said the junior delegates just voted and defended those they felt strongest about.
He said when he talked about honoring the U.S. flag, he got a negative response from the 2,000-some people in the audience. Dirks said they were simply saying people should respect our nation’s flag and not burn or tarnish it.
“Some people thought we were speaking of taking away people’s right to express themselves,” he clarified.
Dirks said the Iowa GOP delegates ended up accepting all of the junior delegates’ planks.
While this event has surely been the icing on the cake for Dirks, he was also part of the Aug. 18 Muscatine County Republicans’ Fall Affair. He spoke alongside U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam from Illinois and Iowa Rep. Steve Olson from DeWitt.
In an article in the Muscatine Journal dated Aug. 19, reporter Mike Ferguson talked about Dirks’ speech at the event: “Dirks said too many people on Wall Street and even some on Main Street are living on Easy Street, but he worries about the young people on Sesame Street, who have ‘taken a heavy hit’ during the recession and have had to shoulder a large share of the nation’s debt.”
On Aug. 25, Dirks was invited to speak at Pack the Park, an event in Anamosa organized by the Jones County 9.12 group.
“I spoke on responsibility, morals and being virtuous,” Dirks said.
Dirks said he is not trying to tell voters who to vote for in November. “Decisions are best made for the individual, by the individual,” he said.
Having always been fascinated about politics and history, Dirks’ interests grew when he attended a local caucus. He said he is really concerned, as all young people should be, about our nation’s debt.
“This debt will be paid off by the next generation of Americans,” he said. “We’ll be paying it and we have no voting voice. I hope to provide those with a speaking voice.”
Aligning with the right side of the political spectrum, Dirks said he stands up for “people’s law, the Constitution, what this country was founded on.
“Most people lean conservative by principle,” he said. “But people have to make choices that are the best for themselves.”
While Dirks is passionate about politics now, he said he doesn’t want to see it run his future. Looking to go to Iowa State University after graduation, he may want to major in finance versus politics.
“I don’t want to do this for me,” he said, “but for my country.”
Hoping to some day make it to the Republican National Convention as a speaker, Dirks said for now he will keep speaking out and encouraging young people to get involved.
“Decisions in Des Moines and D.C. affect us all,” he said. “Those are things we will have to live with. This is why kids should be interested in politics.”
Aside from his busy speaking engagements and school, Dirks is involved in 4-H, having shown at this year’s Great Jones County Fair. He is also in theater, band and speech. He’s a senior at MHS and the son of Mark and Jeanine Dirks of Monticello.
PHOTO: Ben Dirks addresses the crowd of about 2,000 people at the Iowa GOP Convention on June 16. Dirks was voted as the GOP Junior Delegate Chairman. (Photo submitted)