AUGUSTA – A lot of Democrats talk about energizing the youth vote, but few expected to see three 17-year-olds among the 950 registered delegates at the Augusta Civic Center over the weekend.
Derek Hardy and Amy Foley, both of Deer Isle, and Stanley Abraham of Hampden were all smiles Saturday and the focus of more than a little attention at the convention where recruiting young blood has suddenly become more than a platitude. All three became eligible to participate in the convention and the June primary vote because of a law the Legislature passed last year allowing the enfranchising of 17-year-olds who would turn 18 before the general election in November.
Both Hardy and Foley will be freshmen enrolled in honors programs at the University of Maine this fall and said they had become involved in politics through their experiences in the Boys State and Girls State programs last year. Stephen York, one of their teachers at Deer Isle-Stonington High School, suggested they might consider becoming involved in the convention since the Hancock County delegation was looking for a few more participants.
“I got the idea from Mr. York, who is also a delegate, and it sounded like a good idea, and it’s been a great experience,” Hardy said.
Foley visited the State House on a field trip with York, which prompted a discussion about politics. York said he was aware the county had 28 seats to fill for the delegation’s contingent to the state convention.
“In a previous Hancock County committee meeting we had been asked to think about people who would like to be involved, so in talking with Amy and learning of Derek’s interest in politics, I suggested that they might be interested in going,” York said.
Both of the young Hancock County delegates enjoyed attending the training sessions that focused on attracting independent voters who represent the overwhelming majority of registered voters in Maine.
“We learned how to get independents to vote Democratic and how to recruit new members – like us, for example,” Foley said. “I can’t believe how many people are coming up to tell us how happy they are that we’re here.”
Abraham’s political experience began when he worked on Al Gore’s failed presidential bid in 2000. While he had served as a page during the last state convention, becoming a delegate was a major step forward.
“It was great to participate in the platform debates,” he said. “I wish more young people would get involved in the political process. Seeing three of us here is a nice start, but I wish it was like 30.”
U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud said that if the Democratic Party is going to survive, it has to attract younger members to the state conventions to help motivate the institution from the bottom up.
“They’re going to be the future of the party – this younger generation,” Michaud said. “We ought to open up the door to anyone who wants to participate, regardless of their age. But I am very pleased to see the younger people getting involved.”
At 24, state Rep. Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, was one of the youngest women ever elected to the House when she entered the Legislature in 2003. She said the best that Maine has to offer could be found in its youth.
“Those kids at Deer-Isle Stonington High School asked some of the best questions during a debate I attended there last year,” she said. “To get kids engaged at that age is the only way to do it. The party is dying for more young people to get involved. And a lot of young people are starting to wake up and say: ‘I don’t think things are going the way I want them to go.'”