Millennials making a run

Spurred by Trump’s policies, gun violence, young candidates enter local election

Young people have been leading a register to vote campaign across the country.
Photo special to the Outlook

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Sparked by Donald Trump’s election almost two years ago and the recent spate in school shootings, millennials have been stepping up to run for public office across the country.

That includes Tallahassee, too. As of this past Monday, eight people between ages 23 and 39 have registered to run for city and county seats as well as one for a seat on Leon County School Board.

While young aspiring candidates in larger cities have the backing of Run for Something, an organization formed after the 2016 elections to encourage progressives to run for office, first time candidates in Tallahassee are going it alone. Some have paid their way onto the ballot and others managed to solicit required support on petitions.

However they got on the ballot, most are inspired by the same concerns — gun violence in schools or the lack of ethics seen in local government – said Kimberly Scott.

Scott, Tallahassee chapter director of New Leaders Council, said the national organization doesn’t endorse candidates. However, she said the rise in young candidates shouldn’t be a surprise.

The council, which started it’s Tallahassee chapter five years ago, promotes preparation of millennials for leadership roles in their communities. The number of people taking the council’s five-month development program has increased in the last two years, she said.

“People are seeking the ability to groom themselves to become these elected leaders,” Scott said. “It’s an incredible shift we have seen in the past two years with the urgency in mobilizing.”

Scott suggested that the young candidates, who are all first-timers in politics, develop a strong support base and stay on message.

Two millennials are among the three candidates challenging incumbent Bill Proctor for the Leon County Commission District 1 seat. They include 21-year-old Jasmine Ali-Mohammad and Gregory Williams, 36.

Williams was one of many candidates expected to pay $3,033.25 this week to get onto the ballot.

“It is a lot of money but I’m looking at the value it could have,” Williams said. “Even if it doesn’t happen, I would have given it my best shot.”

Williams said he is challenging Proctor, who has been in office for 22 years, because he could improve on some of the things that the incumbent has done. The district includes the south side of Tallahassee where the unemployment and crime rates are high.

“I want to be the one to get out there and get my hands dirty,” said Williams, an educator who works in the communication and humanitarian office at TCC. “Just looking at my surroundings and what’s going on made me want to put my name in the pot; at least try.”

Carrie Litherland, 25, is making a more ambitious effort in her bid for the mayor’s office. That spot opened up when Andrew Gillum decided to run for governor. However, she faces a stiff battle with veteran politician John Dailey in the race.

“I think I would offer a fresh perspective,” said Litherland, a consultant who works on politics and ethics for a law firm. “For so long, we’ve been telling residents this is the way things have been done in the past and not looking to create new ideas. So many young people are coming up and trying to have their voices heard.

“I think the young people have a lot to say and I think it’s time that we are heard.”

They are hearing a lot, too. Mostly it’s about their age and inexperience.

“It’s not so much waiting our turn to get into a seat,” Litherland said. “It’s time for us to be leaders. It’s inspiration for me that a group of people my age are taking control. We are firefighters, teachers, and lawyers. I don’t see why we can’t be mayor or higher office.”

Ironically, Gillum had some advice for the young candidates. He was 23 years old when he ran for city commission and won.

“While young candidates might run into headwinds when trying to boost their name recognition, they can more than make up for it with energy and enthusiasm,” said Gillum, 39. “When I first ran, I was vastly outspent, but my campaign worked hard, knocked on countless doors, and asked for a chance.”

Kyle Frost, a 23-year-old candidate for Leon County Commission seat 3 could relate. He also is running for the seat vacated by Dailey.

“A lot of people think I’m just a student and I’m a millennial that don’t know what I want,” said Frost, a TCC student who works as a computer programmer for CHP. “But I like to remind people that I’ve jumped the gun for my age. I’ve been working professionally since I was 19 in the health insurance industry.”

One of his big issues is the Community Redevelopment Agency. In the face of an ongoing FBI investigation, he said he could bring back ethics to the CRA and make it more functional.

“I think a lot of what we do in government is very antiquated,” he said. “I think with the technology background I have I could bring Leon County into the 21st century with the way we run things.”

There is a consensus among political analysts that young voters will have an impact on the 2018 elections. Florida in particular could see a rise in young voters following the movement that began after the February school shooting in Parkland. Two months later, the number of new voters in the state jumped from 20 percent to 30 percent.

Teenagers have been signing up to vote in large numbers and those between the ages of 18 and 19 are being urged to register at rallies across the country. Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, is one of those at the forefront of the youth movement to register to vote.

“I want them to engage, vote, and then run,” Watts told Teen Vogue in February. “They don’t have to wait until midlife to run. College-aged Americans should consider politics as a career.

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