Viewpoint: Hall party leaders weigh in on fall choice
There’s something in the air. So they’ll tell you.
“I feel like there’s a lot more younger folks that are interested” in local politics now, said Matt Dubnik, a Republican running unopposed this November for state House District 29, filling the seat held by retiring state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville. “I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and more aware.”
Michelle Jones, a community activist and mother of three, said she has seen it, too. And it’s not just because she is running for Georgia State House District 30, a South Hall County seat.
Jones, 30, will be the first Democrat to challenge two-term incumbent Republican Emory Dunahoo.
“I think we are going to see a lot of new faces,” including young people, women and Latinos, in politics soon, Jones said. “Whether they’re Republican or Democrat, they’re just excited to see that someone is willing to put in the effort.”
Dubnik, 35, a small-business owner, said it’s not just running for office that counts.
Working to get candidates elected, or simply speaking out and speaking up, can be a powerful way to contribute locally, he said.
For many Americans, the 2016 presidential election is one of the stranger ones in memory. But amid accusations of racism and corruption between the national candidates, young political leaders in Hall said they want to help return trust and civility to the system.
“I know there are many people, both Republican and Democrat, who aren’t exactly thrilled with their party’s choice of nominee,” said Chase Reed, 21, a Gainesville native and political science major at the University of North Georgia. “But that’s no reason to give up on the political process. There will always be work to be done on the local level right here in Hall County.”
Reed got his start in high school, working to elect candidates before he could legally vote. And he worked on the campaign of U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, during the May primary.
Currently, he is an associate for Madison Strategies, a public affairs and political consulting firm.
“The main reason why I got involved in politics is, honestly, because I truly love the Gainesville-Hall County community and I want to do what I can to better it,” Reed said. “I didn’t come from some big political dynasty or anything like that. I’m the son of a school teacher and a firefighter.”
Gabe Shippy, 30, the northeast director for the Young Democrats of Georgia and member of the Hall County Democratic Party, said the emergence of young political leaders locally “speaks volumes about our community.”
“The importance of young people getting involved and taking ownership of their future cannot be overstated,” he added.
Reed said working behind the scenes has afforded him insight about where things are headed.
“The political climate in Hall County is definitely changing and it’s doing so rapidly,” he said. “The 2018 election will cause a domino effect for Hall County. Lots of seats should open up, which will provide opportunities for younger people to not only run for office, but also will provide opportunities to work and volunteer on campaigns.”
Shippy said the quick rise and growing ranks of the Young Democrats in Hall and across the region is promising, particularly when voter turnout among people younger than 30 is historically poor both locally and nationwide.
“It’s very encouraging to see this level of engagement because it sends a message to our elected officials that we are investing in our future and, in doing so, holding them accountable for decisions they make,” he added.
Dubnik said Republican outreach to millennials is sharpening its focus these days, and younger representatives can be found in more and more political, civic and business groups in Hall as “a lot of giants in the community” depart.
“The time has come to pass that torch to the next generation,” he added. “It’s somewhat of a changing of the guard. If it’s our time to lead, then we have to be involved.”
Reed believes millenials can push a new dynamic where activism trumps apathy.
“Regardless of what side of the aisle you’re on, if you see a problem in government that you think needs to be fixed, go get involved with whichever party you identify with,” he said as a kind of mantra for today.