I’ve gotten into a rut of writing about the GOP over the past few weeks, and I promise I’ll end it soon. But bear with me for one more post please.

Columnist David Hawpe from the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky examines youth involvement in politics within the state and concludes that youth do have an important role to play in today’s politics. Hawpe refreshingly declines to follow other lazy pundits, who assert that today’s youth are lazy because they’re not chaining themselves to bulldozers or protesting; instead, Hawpe sees the ballot box as just as effective (maybe more) than the obstructive tactics of the 1960s. Hawpe closes by hoping young Kentucky voters play a significant, responsible role in deciding Kentucky’s 2010 Senate race as young Americans did in 2008’s presidential/congressional elections. Hawpe simply believes elections need youth involvement.

Hawpe seems to focus solely on youth voting in his piece, but there are obviously several other ways for young people to get involved in politics. Registering to vote and casting a ballot is one way, but others include working on a political campaign or running one yourself. Sarah Burris at Future Majority wrote a post in January about the number of young, progressive candidates running for office this spring. While we face our challenges in getting our party to respond to requests for more youth involvement, we’re in relatively good shape compared to the other party.

A blog post on Newsday’s online editorial page notes one large problem surfacing in the New York GOP (other than the shocking defeat of Republican Jim Tedesco by Democrat Scott Murphy in a notoriously red district): no young candidates.

The party’s age problem has been evident for years. As this New York Times story points out, 15 of the 32 Republican senators were 65 or older in the last election, in November. That, of course, was the election that flipped Senate control to the Democrats, with the loss of Caesar Trunzo’s South Shore seat. Trunzo was 81 at the time, and victor Brian X. Foley was 50.

Of course, many of the retirements and defections that were anticipated after the GOP lost the majority have not taken place. Sen. Owen Johnson, 79, of West Babylon, is still in office, as is Sen. William Larkin Jr., 80, who represents the mid-Hudson Valley. Younger senators who were thought to have ambitions elsewhere — Sens. Chuck Fuschillo, 48, and Kemp Hannon, 63 — have not left, either, in spite of the significant downsize in their roles as minority members.

[…]

…You have to wonder what it takes to win as a Republican these days. There doesn’t seem to be a new generation of young candidates lining up to find out.

The Republicans, already more politically irrelevant than they’ve been in quite some time, are also missing a political farm team — young reserves who get trained locally in electoral politics before being dispatched in larger, more widely covered races. An Iowa State professor uses another analogy:

“Young people are the new trees in the deforested Republican party, and they have to plant new trees and water them and get them going, and I don’t think they’re doing a very good job with it,” says Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University in Ames.

The rebuildtheparty.com website that was created immediately following Obama’s win last November also observed a large problem with the lack of youthful candidates on the GOP bench. The group found it to be a problem serious enough to warrant a new program aimed at recruiting younger candidates in local races.

Undoing the damage to our party’s brand among America’s youth will take more than new slogans and hip spokespeople. It will mean making young voters the face of the Republican Party, and not just another target group with its own bulleted list of “outreach” talking points. To that end, the next Chairman should commit to a simple goal: working towards a Republican Party where at least 40% of our challenger and open seat candidates for Congress are under 40. Such a party will send a signal to all Americans that the GOP is once again the party of the future.

It all sounds good. But one has to question this group’s sincerity in its efforts to overhaul the party after a trip to its website. On the front page, a Tedisco campaign YouTube video is prominently displayed informing visitors the campaign “needs [their] help to win on March 31st.” More than a month later, with the GOP still unable to find its youth magic after Tedisco, 58, lost to the Democrats’ 39 year old candidate, perhaps even rebuildtheparty.com is on a furlough.

Or perhaps a little birdie told them of Michael Steele’s answer when asked to name four rising stars under the age of fifty within the Republican Party. Just a warning — it’s ugly:

“I’d say certainly Bobby Jindal, Governor Sanford, Pawlenty, Palin,” Steele said Sunday. “We have a whole host of folks out there who are beginning to emerge on the scene and will over the next couple of years I think redefine this party in a way that will be very good for us long term.”

[…]

The RNC chair was specifically asked to name three Republian [sic] leaders under the age of 50 whom he sees as “new faces.”

He ended up providing four names, all of them governors.

With that view, so much for 40 under 40.

While the Republicans are having all sorts of problems supporting their youth and/or finding any to run for office on their behalf (aside from Aaron Schock, the 27 year old congressman), there are some concerns on the Democratic side we shouldn’t ignore. For instance, Tony Cani from SEIU (formerly the Political Director of the Young Democrats) tweeted today from a youth panel at the Tennessee Democratic Party’s Summit that young candidates aren’t necessarily open to engaging youth.

tcani: Youth panel talking about fustration w young candidates in tn (ford) running from youth not engaging them. #tndpsummit

In addition to maximizing our political strength among youth, more funding of the progressive youth movement is needed, especially now that Obama won and a sense of urgency may unfortunately be lost on some donors. In addition, as Sarah noted in her post I referenced earlier, we can’t let local elections slip by after larger ones without doing our best to help our own progressive candidates. While this might be easy to do simply because the Republicans aren’t sure what they’re doing with youth, in order to build for the long-term, we must do more to extend our focus on youth candidates to every office/seat possible, no matter how small.

In the end, Hawpe is, of course, correct — youth involvement is a must in assessing the long-term health of a political party and is quite potent when given a chance. Unfortunately for conservative youth, the GOP can’t seem to make up its mind about the importance of youth participation. Even Steele, who was elected to shake up the party’s image among moderates and youth, had to rely on names like Palin and Jindal when asked for examples of rising stars. Democrats and the left, on the other hand, should use this as a reminder of the importance of continued organization and funding of progressive youth, many of whom will form the bench of candidates responsible for sustaining our majority well into the future.

Advertisements