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Republican group tries to increase young representation of national delegates

By Katie England daily Herald - | May 12, 2016

When John Rhoden, 28, did some unofficial research of the delegates Utah Republicans sent to the 2012 national convention, he noticed something.

Though Utah has the youngest median age of any state in the country, only four of the 40 national delegates were in their 30s. And only one of those was under the age of 35. 

So when Rhoden, who ran as an alternate at-large during the 2016 Utah Republican Convention, heard of four other people in their 20s and early 30s who had individually filed to run for delegate and alternate positions at the 2016 Utah Republican State Convention, he decided they should band together.

“I feel very passionately about getting more young people involved in politics,” Rhoden said.

These “5 under 35,” as their slogan became, all feel strongly about ensuring their generation is represented in a party that has struggled to keep many millennial voters compared with the Democratic Party.

Nearly one-third of the Democratic national delegation this year was made up of people under the age of 35, with the youngest delegate being just 19 years old.

“Traditionally, young people are more attracted to the Democratic Party than the Republican Party,” said Peter Corroon, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party.

Corroon attributes an uptick in participation by younger people this year to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

But those who formed the 5 under 35 slate hold a very different set of beliefs than that of Sanders, and want to get young people involved who share their concern with issues such as the rising national debt.

When explaining why there is importance in younger people being involved in the party, the group members commonly quote Ronald Reagan as saying, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

“My generations and kids will feel the burden of the federal government that has grown too large and intrusive,” said Jordan Hess, 28, who was elected to serve as a Republican national delegate. “It’s important for us to step up and lead our way out of the mess.”

Besides the fact that his generation will be dealing with the national debt, Rhoden said those under 35 have unique, refreshing perspectives that can be useful when forming policy.

“I spent 20 of my last 28 years alive in a classroom, both as a teacher and a student,” Rhoden said. “I think that experience is a lot more relevant and recent than someone who hasn’t been in a classroom for 30 or 40 years.”

Despite recognizing the importance of having a diversity of ages represented in the party, the group members don’t see themselves as being superior to those who are older.

“I do not think those under 35 bring a better perspective, rather they bring a different perspective,” said Matt Holton, a member of the slate who was elected as an alternate in the 2nd Congressional District.

“We are closer in age to those buying a first home, a first car, graduating from college, paying off student loan debt and other issues close to a younger generation that in fact are affected by government action.”

Provo native Hannah Lockhart, 25, who was elected to serve as an alternate at large, pointed out that no one deserves a spot on a delegate list simply because of age. But she added there are plenty of qualified people under the age of 35 who can bring a new perspective to the table.

Of the five members of 5 under 35, each and every one has an impressive political resume, from Lockhart, who now serves as the president of the Utah Valley University College Republicans and was formerly a legislative staffer to U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, to Holton, who currently serves as the director of business outreach for Lee and previously served as Congresswoman Mia Love’s 2012 campaign manager.

Though Rhoden and Tifanie Fitzgerald, the other 5 under 35 member, did not end up making the national delegate team, several others under 35 were elected national delegates.

With an increase in young representation this year, the 5 under 35 look forward to continuing to encourage young people to be involved in the Republican Party.

“We had seven or eight interns on (Sen. Lee’s) campaign,” Hess said. “For many of them, that’s their first political experience ever. So it’s been neat to see them get involved and wake up to realities we’re facing.”

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