The 2004 election season has America's youth up in arms, but not just at the polls. Right here in Boise, there are major Democratic campaigns and party offices being run by women, most of them under the age of 30. This trend, especially in a staunchly conservative state and a nation notorious for youthful apathy, is a sign not only of growth within the Democratic Party, but also among the progressives of tomorrow.
Perhaps the youngest example of such political zeal is Emily Shannon, a longtime volunteer who signed on to run Nicole LeFavour's legislative campaign just before turning 20. While Shannon cannot purchase an alcoholic beverage, she can and has been coordinating all of LeFavour's fieldwork, events and meetings since August--without a staff. She first became involved in activism when she was 16 following her involvement in Legislator Education Day.
"I realized I could have an impact on politics--that I could go up to a representative and say: You are my legislator, I am your constituent. You should listen to what I have to say," Shannon said. She is planning on an internship with the Victory Fund in Washington D.C. next year, but until then, she can't get enough of the frenzy. "I love the stress; I love the crazy hours; I love everything about it," she said.
Meagan Franklin, Kate Kelley's campaign manager, is a 23-year-old who volunteered for Betty Richardson and Mayor Dave Bieter before working in the last legislative session. She and Kelley met through Maria Weig, another dynamic young Democrat, and the two have been plugging away ever since. She admits that the days and nights are action-packed and sometimes overwhelming but it is worth it to know every effort was made.
"I feel good as long as I did the best I could possibly do," Franklin said, "and I would much rather work for the good guys than someone who's guaranteed to win."
Such is the battle being gracefully waged by Amy Herzfeld, the 25-year-old campaign manager for Sean Spence in the tight race for the District 17 Representative seat.
"It's the most competitive race in the state, and we knew it would be," Herzfeld said. With the conservative monopoly cracked, she and her volunteers have spent many months making direct communication with citizens, a tactic that is not as crucial for conservative candidates who depend on their voting records. "One thing Democrats in Idaho do well and have to do well is fieldwork," she said, adding that they talk with people in person or on the phone and follow up with literature and more personal contact as opposed to making a "cold drop." She was candid about the likelihood of seriously upping the number of Democrats in office in Idaho, saying that while most of the state will remain right wing, Ada County is leaning ever more toward the left. "This is an exciting time in Ada County for the Democrats," she said. "The GOP elite and Conservative establishment are nervous because the voting history of 17 makes it the next logical district to go Democrat."
In all of these races, Amber Pence Fink has lent a hand to organize party happenings and encourage grass roots strategies. At the age of 27, she is the Idaho Democratic Party Legislative Coordinator, and she couldn't be happier with the dedication of other young politicians.
"I don't know about the rest of the country, but the fact that here in Idaho so many young people, both men and women, are getting out there and getting their voices heard is phenomenal," Fink said. She explained that fresh voices and energy are exactly what American politics needs and that she hopes the trend will continue on both sides.
Aubrey Salazar, also 27, is working on the congressional race between Republican incumbent Mike Simpson and Democratic hopeful Lin Whitworth that encompasses 26 counties from Cole Road all the way to the Wyoming border. Strangely enough, she applied for a different job in the State House but was told she was overqualified. Then her resume fell into the hands of Whitworth's campaign manager, and Salazar took a semester off from school to commit to running the Ada County portion of the campaign. She credits much of her enthusiasm and drive to her age and even her gender, demonstrating why young women are the Democratic Party's next great hope.
"Being a young person, I happen to be an idealist, not a pragmatist," she said. "I don't think anything can keep me from my goals, and in politics, that is a great attitude to have. Plus, women are up against great odds anyway in their everyday lives, so we're suited to this kind of work. We have the endurance of spirit."