Column: Young Americans Noble For Running For Political Offices

This story was written by Matthew Gravens, The Daily Reveille


As November rapidly approaches, it seems Americans are turning to "youth" as the answer to the country's problems. Sen. Barack Obama, much younger than his opponent Sen. John McCain, is leading in every major poll for the presidency.

Another young gun is trying to get voters excited about his candidacy for East Baton Rouge Metro Council. Brett Jackson, 20, is running for the District 12 seat of the Council.

Jackson, a finance senior and Democrat, is running on a platform that will appeal to the younger audience. Other than trying to repeal the East Baton Rouge "blue laws" that make it illegal to sell alcohol after 2 a.m., Jackson wants to fix the traffic problems in his would-be district including Highland Road, Burbank Drive, Lee Drive and Perkins Road. Jackson would also like to see the local tax removed from textbook sales.

Jackson isn't the first young man to try his hand at politics. Jason Wesley, a then-University student, ran in 2004 for the same seat and missed the runoff by 200 votes. Other young politicians in the area include Brian Thomas, a 20-year-old councilman in Opelousas, and 23-year-old Walker Hines, who is a representative in the Louisiana House for District 95. This district includes parts of New Orleans around Tulane and Loyola universities.

Young politicians have been part of the process since America's birth. Twelve of the 56 signatures on the Declaration of Independence come from people who were 35 years old or younger. Also, 12 of the past 20 presidents won their first elected office when they were 35 or younger.

There were approximately 814 elected officials under the age of 35 from mayors and councilmen to state legislators and members of Congress, according to "Young Elected Leaders Project," a study done by the Rutgers University Eagleton Institute of Politics in 2002. The 814 translates to about one out of 20 politicians - 5 percent. This seems like a pretty decent deal, but it's not.

People in the same age group, 18 to 35, make up between 20 and 25 percent of the population, according to the most recent census done in 2000. It seems we are underrepresented.

The problem is it's hard for people in this age group to run and win elections. Usually during this time individuals are starting careers and families and don't have as much time to run campaigns.

Other experts point to the problems of a lack of money required to finance a campaign and the problem of too few mentors willing to show young people how the process works. Other problems include the age requirements to hold office and lack of term limits on some offices which allow older officials to stay in office longer.

However, some young Americans are still running and winning offices. These young people stand out from other people their own age in a couple of different ways, according to the Rutgers study.

The study found young politicians followed the news closely, are better educated, attended church more regularly and often had more faith that citizens and government most try to do the right thing.

Although the researchers thought the group would be more diverse, the study showed that most young politicians were white males.

The movement is growing, which is a good thing. More young people should get involved.

I've spent time working on a campaign, and it really opened my eyes to the political process. On just one of the afternoons that I went door-to-door, I learned how different the constituencies were in the Louisiana First Congressional District and when the numbers came in it showed that the work my friends and I did helped in the election.

I plan to get involved again with a differet candidate in a different area. It's so important that we as young people fight for the things that we need. No one is going to do it for us. If we don't make elected officials more aware of our presence, they're just going to continue to look over us like they have in the past.

If you're tired of high gas and tuition prices, if you want your children to grow up in a better world than you did and if you want to make a difference in the way your city, state or country operates, go make a difference. Register to vote; register other people to vote; make a campaign contribution or go volunteer on a campaign.

If you like expensive gas, aren't having kids and are OK with the way things are, go back to your lawn chair and beer by the pool and sooner or later - hopefully sooner - you'll realize the mistake you made.
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