Host of young Democrats and Republicans jumping into Colorado political races

By: Jesse Byrnes
March 28, 2014 Updated: March 28, 2014 at 10:38 pm
photo - Newly elected Colorado State Senator Owen Hill takes the oath of office with his son Cadin Hill by his side during the first day of state legislation. Both the Colorado State House of Representatives and Senate had their opening day of legislature at the state capital on Wednesday, January 9, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)
Newly elected Colorado State Senator Owen Hill takes the oath of office with his son Cadin Hill by his side during the first day of state legislation. Both the Colorado State House of Representatives and Senate had their opening day of legislature at the state capital on Wednesday, January 9, 2013. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett) 

After President Barack Obama sailed to reelection victory in 2012, the GOP published a 97-page document outlining strategies for attracting voters. The report, dubbed the "autopsy," highlighted the importance of attracting young voters.

More than a year later, El Paso County Democrats and Republicans are pushing younger candidates."Presumably, young candidates will appeal to young voters," said Daniel Cole, executive director of the El Paso County Republicans. "One of the problems in 2012 was that young voters preferred Obama in droves."

Democrats have an eye out for youth, too.

"We need to bring young blood in," said Christy Le Lait, executive director of the El Paso County Democrats. "We need a balance of representation in all levels of local government."

The average age of the 10 Colorado legislators representing the Colorado Springs area is 54, while the average age of City Council members is 57.

Republican incumbents Rep. Dan Nordberg, 31, and state Sen. Owen Hill, 32, have made a name for themselves already, but several new 20- and 30-somethings are jumping into the political game and running in county-level races.

In House District 15, three of four Republican candidates under age 30 are vying for the seat, now held by incumbent Republican Rep. Mark Waller, who is running for attorney general.

"From the party perspective, it makes clear that there's space for young people within the Republican party and that the Republican party is not a fading phenomenon," said Cole, who is 30.

"There are a lot of issues from this last legislative session that have woken young people up," said J.D. Key, 24, the youngest of the crop running in House District 15.

Like others, Key - who said he is "no newbie to the game" - was urged to avoid the race because of his age. As he watched the candidate field develop he became "unsatisfied" and entered.

If elected, Key would meet the Constitutional requirement of being 25 about four months before the January swearing in.

"If anything I think (my youth) provides an advantage because I have energy, I have passion, and I have the ability to get the job done," said David Williams, 27, also running in House District 15.

"More and more young people are abandoning the Democratic party, and I want the Republican party to be there to bring them in," said Mike Kuhn, 29, also running in that district.

But age isn't everything, said Jariah Walker, 36, a Democrat running against Republican incumbent Peggy Littleton for county commissioner in District 5.

A "young-minded" person can be 60 or in their 20s, said Walker, who is involved with young professional groups locally.

"Voters are tired of political bickering and partisan politics," he said, adding his focus is on "ideas more than ideology."

"The overwhelming message from voters is that they do not feel represented by either party," said Dan Stanforth, 28, one of five Republicans running for a seat in House District 20.

Both Republicans and Democrats are losing young voters, Stanforth said, while the country faces "transcendent problems" that can't wait to be addressed, especially for young people.

For some, the challenges facing their generation is a large part of their platforms.

"We have new issues and new dilemmas that face society and face our generation," said Democratic candidate Glenn Carlson, 30, running against Nordberg in House District 14. "We simply cannot afford to sit on the sidelines."

For Carlson, a 2006 Colorado College graduate with a bachelor's degree in economics, one of those issues is tuition and the student loan bubble, which have "hamstrung" him personally.

Carlson, who owns a massage business and works at an electronics company headquartered in Denver, has about two more years of student loans payments.

"Ten years of experience seems to be not enough for a lot of people in El Paso County," said Stanforth, who has managed properties locally for a decade. "The Republican party needs to get over that now."

Still, local politics needs more than just diversity of age, but diversity of gender and party affiliation, Le Lait said.

For some, it's a matter of just standing up.

Ryan Macoubrie, 28, showed up at the Democratic county assembly Saturday with only a few months of volunteer experience. He found himself in a breakout room with about two dozen others, most in their 50s and60s, to vote for someone to compete in the solidly-red House District 16 against Rep. Janak Joshi. No candidates existed, just a "long, awkward pause."

Macoubrie threw his name out there.

"Things have changed dramatically in the past 20 minutes," the Colorado State University-Fort Collins English literature graduate told delegates in his impromptu acceptance speech Saturday.

Cole contends recent youth interest in local politics is "organic."

The young candidates are all in relatively safe races, Cole said, adding they can "pitch in" for the more difficult races, specifically House District 17 and 18 and Senate District 11.

"It's definitely the case that all this youthful energy in these other races will come in handy when it comes time to band together and win the difficult races," Cole said.

How do political parties get more young people involved?

"You stop patting them on the backs and knocking on their doors when you need votes and you start putting them in leadership positions," Key said.

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