Arts & Humanities

USU students seize chance of a lifetime in grassroots politics

This feature, "Student Life," returns with a new name, replacing "Student News." The intent, however, is the same. "Student Life" brings readers the best of student-produced journalism at Utah State University. Featured items are written by students for The Utah Statesman, the official student newspaper of Utah Sate University, or The Hard News Café, the online publication from the Department of Journalism and Communication. Both publications are award winning and present the talents of Utah State's journalists-in-training.

This week's piece is from Hard News Cafe by writer Callie Taggart 

USU students seize chance of a lifetime in grassroots politics 

From the Hard News Cafe 12/10/03

USU students are living in the chance of a lifetime in Utah politics. The 2004 Utah Governor's race is shaping up to be a dynamic and dramatic event.

Republican candidates include former U.S. Trade Ambassador Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., Board of Regents Chairman Nolan Karras, former U.S. Representative Jim Hansen, House Speaker Marty Stephen, business executive Fred Lampropoulos and Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert. University of Utah Law School Dean Scott M. Matheson Jr. is the major Democratic contender.

As an August article in the Deseret Morning News said, "such political barn-burners only come along a couple of times in a lifetime. And we urge Utahns to take full advantage of this one." USU students are. While November 2004 may seem far off, it is just around the corner for those involved in grassroots gubernatorial campaigns.

While some students struggle to balance school, a job, and a social life, Alison Aikele, a senior majoring in public relations, has yet another thing on her plate. Aikele is the Northern Utah Region delegate chairperson for the Nolan Karras campaign. She was also asked to be the state public relations chairperson. Aikele became involved when a friend she worked with last summer in Washington, D.C. asked her to head the grassroots effort between Bountiful and Logan for Karras. Aikele jumped at the chance to get involved because she sees a grassroots campaign as a great resume builder. So far she has been spending her time organizing and training volunteers, and fundraising.

"It will give me some awesome experience for a future career in politics and public relations," Aikele said. "This is a great opportunity to get involved in something outside of school -- this is something in the community that is really going to affect us."

Alison isn't the only USU student working behind the scenes for the 2004 governor's race. Also spearheading grassroots campaigns are Bethany Christensen, working for Jon Huntsman, Jr., and Brad Jowers, working for Fred Lampropoulos.

While most students spent the last weekend before the end of the semester gearing up for finals week, Bethany Christensen was mingling with 300 politicians and volunteers at the Huntsman Lodge in Deer Valley. In fact, Christensen drove from Logan to Deer Valley and back three times in three days that week for open houses planned to recruit volunteers for the Huntsman Campaign. Since September, Christensen has spent about 20 to 25 hours per week working for the campaign. She also carries a heavy load of 18 credits as she nears completion of her dual bachelor's degree from USU in political science and public relations. Impressively, at the young age of 21, Christensen is the field director for Cache, Box Elder, and Rich Counties.

Like Aikele, Christensen became involved in this particular campaign through influential people she met at Foxley/Pignanelli, a law firm she worked for in Salt Lake City. Christensen said that her experience has helped her better understand the elections process that she has learned about in her political science classes.

"I never realized how early people start campaigning and how many people it actually takes," Christensen said. "I've also really enjoyed learning more about the issues facing Utah and how different people feel about them and why."

Christensen strongly recommends joining a campaign. "Get involved in a project bigger than yourself that takes teamwork and promotes the greater good, no matter how small of a part you may think you play," Christensen said.

Aikele would agree. She advises students to pick a candidate they really believe in. "If you pick a candidate and you really don't believe in anything he does or stands for, then you're not going to have your heart in it and you're not going to add to the effort," Aikele said.

"I chose Nolan Karras because he's real. I've met a lot of politicians in my life, and he's a real person. I also agree with the way he believes improved education will lead to economic growth -- this is what Utah needs," Aikele said.

Christensen chose to support Huntsman because she says his business experience will benefit the state. She says people all over Utah are excited to see someone run who doesn't have a "typical" politician past.

Most find the dedication of students like Aikele, Christensen and Jowers quite amazing.

"In college you either get involved or you don't get involved. You're one or the other. Those who get involved are those who really want to do a good job," Aikele said.

According to a survey released in October by Harvard's Institute of Politics, American college students are highly independent and, contrary to popular belief, "seeking political engagement...[the] youth vote is up for grabs." The smart gubernatorial candidates have realized this, and that is why they are tapping into this large number of potential votes with the expertise of such volunteers as Aikele and Christensen.

"As far as getting those younger votes, people like me can bring a lot to a campaign," Aikele said. "The people I'm working for obviously know how to run a campaign, but on the other hand, they're not exactly in the University. Younger people are charismatic and can bring a lot of energy to a campaign."

Brad Jowers, a senior majoring in management and human resources, and Utah Youth Coordinator for Lampropoulos' campaign, said being involved with a campaign and getting college students to vote can change an entire election.

"Instead of sitting around bad-mouthing what's going on in politics, students need to take advantage of this opportunity to really make a difference," Jowers said.

Huntsman agrees that students can make a difference. In October, at a two-day conference called the Boot Camp of Politics organized by the USU College Republicans, he praised USU students. "Their ability to organize, their ability to get the vote out, their ability to get involved, which they should be doing, could play a leading role in the outcome of certain elections in 2004. I'm a strong believer in that," Huntsman said.

Aikele, Christensen and Jowers are already doing their part. Aikele says the time she spends on the campaign is going to continue to increase.

"It's just completely uphill from here. After Christmas it's going to be out of control," Aikele said. "It will be a challenge, but I can handle it. Bring it on!"

Are you interested in taking advantage of the chance of a lifetime in Utah politics? Join a grassroots gubernatorial campaign for Election 2004. Here are just a few of the grassroots efforts already underway, with contact information for USU student volunteers.

Nolan Karras (R)
Alison Aikele

Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. (R)
Bethany Christensen

Fred Lampropoulos (R)
Brad Jowers

By Callie Taggart



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