Student energy enlivens races

Campaigners say young volunteers add excitement and dynamism to politics.

Koran Addo

When University senior Tyler Richter was growing up, his father sometimes did not bring a paycheck home.

In those cases, Republican-sponsored initiatives helped Richter’s father – a small-business owner – keep his family out of financial trouble, Richter said.

Now the College Republicans chairman, Richter works on campaigns for Republican candidates who support small businesses like his father’s.

He is one of several University students who work on political campaigns. Students said they participate to prepare for a career in politics or to be a part of something they think will make a difference.

In addition, students add excitement to campaigns, said Jeff Blodgett, executive director of Wellstone Action, a nonprofit organization that works for economic justice and social change.

A “huge chunk” of the approximately 17,000 volunteers for former U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone’s 2002 campaign were students, Blodgett said.

“(The Bush) administration has really polarized the country, especially with the tax cuts and the war on terror, so a lot of young people have been mobilized who weren’t previously,” he said.

Blodgett said he predicts a huge student turnout in the voting booths this fall because of the renewed activism he has seen from the student population.

Jake Grassel, chairman of the State College Republicans, said that if not for students, campaigns would not have the same energy.

“Without students, the campaigns would lack a dynamic element,” he said. “(Students) bring excitement to the rallies, and they can go 18 or 20 hours a day.”

Students joining a campaign can expect to volunteer a lot of time and energy into doing legwork, said Austin Miller, a junior and University DFL president.

He spent winter break in Iowa working on the campaign for U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. Miller’s duties included knocking on doors, making phone calls and organizing meetings with constituents.

Although many people find that work unattractive, Miller said, the strategy and planning that go into a campaign are rewarding.

“(Students) can make a difference,” he said.

Miller said he looks forward to campaigning “hard-core” once a Democratic nominee is picked.

Richter and Miller said they both grew up in families with parents who were affiliated with political parties and want to continue that tradition.

For others, politics is new.

Junior Robert Schnizlein’s parents were never really involved in politics. Instead, he said, he formed his political beliefs while debating in high school government class.

“I got involved because politics is never a spectator sport,” he said.

Since high school, Schnizlein has distributed literature and made phone calls for President George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign. He also is active in University student Amanda Hutchings’ state representative campaign.

“To be a part of a campaign, you need to have an open mind, lots of free time and be willing to go to D.C. right away if you’re needed,” Schnizlein said.

Logging long hours of volunteer campaign work can lead to paid political positions for some students.

Senior Andy Pomroy has held a few paid positions working for the Roger Moe and Becky Lourey gubernatorial campaigns.

Pomroy said he became active in campaigns because he wanted to organize the student population.

“Not many students vote,” he said. “Look how closely the country and the state are divided; if the number of students who vote were doubled, it could tip the balance.”

Although College Republicans and University DFL might not see eye to eye on the issues, both sides agree that getting involved in a campaign is the easiest part.

“All it takes is a little initiative,” Pomroy said. “Find out what’s going on (at the University) and get involved.”

Richter said young people are getting involved every day.

“The elevator is always open on the ground floor,” he said.