Ben Nelson

U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson. (FRANCIS GARDLER/Journal Star file photo)

FRANCIS GARDLER/Journal Star file photo

U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson's political aspirations began as a teenager who attended both Boys State and the YMCA Mock Legislature.

Nelson was elected governor at the mock legislature -- against the odds, since he was from rural Nebraska, which had fewer votes.

He remembers sitting behind the governor’s desk for a day and thinking, “I want to come back here in this role.”

He did.

Nelson served eight years as governor and will be retiring next year after 12 years as a U.S. Senator.

“That was my long-range plan,” said Nelson, who told Boys State delegates to pursue their goals even if the odds aren’t in their favor.

Nelson blended personal advice with political opinion during his talk to the Boys State delegates in Lincoln on Saturday morning.

When he finally decided to run for governor in 1990, he said, his friends advised against it.

“Don’t do this; you have a good law practice," they told him. "Don’t do this; you might lose."

He was a long shot in both the primary and general elections.

“You know what they call you if you win the primary by 42 votes and the election by 4,500?

"They call you governor," said Nelson, who urged the Boys State delegates to take risks. "If you don’t put yourself at risk, you never have an opportunity to win."

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Nelson's speech on the second floor of the Nebraska Union delved into political topics, as well.

After a weeklong trip in the Middle East, he told delegates he's convinced that Syrian President Bashar Assad must go.

“It’s a question of when, not whether,” he said.

Thousands have been killed since March last year as Assad's regime has reacted violently to those within his own country calling for political reforms.

Nelson said if Assad's opponents are able to get Assad out of the leadership, then they will cut off the relationship Syria has with Iran, and that will cut off terrorist organizations.

Assad could be prosecuted like Hosni Mubarak was in Egypt. He could be killed like Moammar Gaddafi in Libya. Or he can leave with someplace to go -- asylum, Nelson said.

“Nothing good is going to go on in Syria until Assad goes,” he said.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 402-473-7250 or


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