Meet the Future: Candidates for Office Keeping Getting Younger

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Joe Alexander ’17 campaigning for state representative in Pinnardville. Joe is running as a Republican for state representative in Goffstown. (Photo courtsey of Joe Alexander ’17)

Since then-Senator Barack Obama’s campaign for President in 2008, young people have been a rising tide in American politics. Record numbers of young people are volunteering for campaigns, turning out to vote, and taking an active role in the direction of the country. Young people have also been running for office at record rates. According to a recent Politico article, more than 20 millennials are running for the United States Congress in battleground districts in 2018. There are a handful of organizations that exist to aid young people in running for office, such as the progressive Run For Something and the conservative RNC Youth Coalition.

Saint Anselm College has not been exempt from the groundswell of activity by young adults in America’s political landscape. A sure boon to this is the New Hampshire Institute of Politics and the Kevin B. Harrington Student Ambassador Program, which brings a circus of top-level candidates, figures, and organizations on to campus and gives Saint Anselm students direct access to them.

Two former Kevin B. Harrington Student Ambassadors have run for office themselves in the past four years, during their time as students on the Hilltop; Joe Alexander ’17 and Cody Aubin ’18. The Hilltopper reached out to them, as well as Casey Pease, on leave from a Political Science program at UMass-Amherst, who is a friend of several Saint Anselm College students and recently ran for State Representative in his home district in Western Massachusetts.

Alexander, 23, is currently running for State Representative in Goffstown, New Hampshire. He said his favorite part of running for office is, “Having good conversations with voters. Most voters are receptive to candidates knocking on doors. Many people want to talk about the issues in town and around the state and value their power to vote.  I like talking about the issues to the voters and hearing their perspective.”

Aubin, 23 years old but 18 and 19 when he ran for State Representative in Manchester, had a similar feeling. He told me “My favorite part of running for office was learning what issues were important to my neighbors and what really impacted them in their day to day lives. Even if the issues did not directly impact someone, the depth of knowledge that many people had about issues facing our community and state was inspiring and refreshing.”

Aubin noted the need for more young people to get involved. “Running for office at a younger age provides different and fresh perspectives into the political arena, as well as an age representation that is severely lacking in our political system,” he said. “At the time I was running for office, the average age of the New Hampshire House of Representatives was 68 years old.”

Alexander added, “The only way to have an effect on government is to get involved.  I chose to run because I wanted to be a conservative voice for the town.”

Pease, 21, believes that the time is critical for young people to get involved, saying, “Our generation needs to start taking a lead on addressing climate change, college debt, and out of control income inequality. We are the ones most affected by these issues, and we need to start solving them. Now.”

Aubin offered advice for students thinking about running for office, telling them “to wholeheartedly pursue it and run on what is important to you and your community.  Issues are not as black and white as they are portrayed and a young person’s voice is valuable to our public discourse.  If you know and understand what you are talking about, people will recognize that, listen, and support you if they agree with you.”

Pease was clear that there is no need for younger candidates to wait. “It may seem like an impossible thing. People may say you’re too young. Well, you’re not,” he said. “Do it. But you can’t do it alone. Find a few people who can help advise and serve on your campaign committee.”

Alexander’s advice was more straightforward, “The worst thing that happens is you lose,” he said. “Learn from your mistakes and run again.” He is living this advice. Alexander ran a write-in campaign for State Representative in Concord in 2016, his senior year at Saint Anselm College, and won the Republican primary but came about 200 votes short of defeating the Democratic incumbent. He has since moved to Goffstown, where he serves on the town’s budget committee and is seeking one of the five seats for the town in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

One of the obstacles that many young people see when thinking about running for office is balancing their student responsibilities and the demands of running for office. On this, Alexander said, “I am a full-time graduate student at the University of New Hampshire.  It is tough balancing working full time and going to school with the needs of the campaign trail.  I have worked hard to knock on as many doors as possible this cycle.  Knocking on doors is the most effective way to reach voters but takes time and daylight.”

Aubin, who ran during the fall semester of his freshman year at Saint Anselm College, told me “I had a lot of support throughout the election. The other gentleman who ran with me representing our party worked very closely with me to campaign. He would go door-knocking and do the ‘grip-and-grin’ part of the campaign, while I would do phone calls for voters from my dorm room.”

Pease’s pointed to a different problem: money. “The high cost of campaigns coupled with being a low-income college student was incredibly difficult,” he said. This is consistent with the larger theme of “big money politics” that has become commonplace in the national dialogue since the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), with whom Pease traveled across the country as a staffer.

For Aubin, the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ) served as an inspiration in his adventures in politics. He said “[McCain] often said, along with then-Senator Joe Biden, that it was never right to question someone else’s motives in politics for your own political gains.  It is always appropriate to challenge their judgment, but never their motives.”

For Pease, the inspiration came from closer to home. His grandmother was the first Selectwoman in his hometown of Worthington, Massachusetts and served for more than twenty years.

Saint Anselm College has called itself New Hampshire’s home for politics for many years now. Each election cycle, presidential hopefuls make their way across the Hilltop and local candidates gather in the NHIOP for the WMUR Granite State Debates. But in the dorm rooms, apartments, and common areas, the students of the College themselves are making their voices heard and finding their own ways to get involved in our nation’s politics. In New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and hometowns across the country, there are openings for young people to become active and play a critical role in their community. Whether it’s as simple as casting a ballot, volunteering for a campaign, or taking the next step and running for office, the moment is ripe for the next generation to step up.

Saint Anselm College is located in Goffstown’s Ward 5 for electoral purposes. Voting takes places at Bartlett Elementary School (689 Mast Road, Goffstown NH 03102). The New Hampshire State Primary is this Tuesday, September 11th and polls are open from 7 AM to 7 PM. Students intending to vote will need to bring appropriate documentation with them proving their primary domicile is in New Hampshire. A student ID will work for this purpose. Starting in June of 2019, students will need a New Hampshire drivers license.

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