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Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2008

Political fever spreads on campus

Upcoming election inspires students to volunteer, educate, register to vote

Jonathan Simon, a Kansas University junior from Lenexa, volunteers with the campaign of U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan. Simon is among the KU students who are taking advantage of election year to get hands-on experience on a political campaign.

Jonathan Simon, a Kansas University junior from Lenexa, volunteers with the campaign of U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-Kan. Simon is among the KU students who are taking advantage of election year to get hands-on experience on a political campaign.

August 16, 2008

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On a cold morning in late December, Jonathan Simon put on a winter coat, draped a scarf around his neck and pulled on thick socks before heading out to trudge through the streets of Ames, Iowa.

Simon, Kansas University junior from Lenexa, planned to march from door to door from 8 a.m. until dark for Barack Obama's caucus campaign. He was armed with sign-up cards, pamphlets and passion, but he forgot one thing: gloves.

"Thinking back, it was probably a little dangerous to be out without gloves, but I didn't bring money to buy some," Simon said. "Luckily, the first house I stopped at couldn't believe I didn't have any and gave me an extra pair that I still have."

Simon is just one KU student involved in politics. Now working on the Nancy Boyda congressional campaign, he's in the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is always on call. Things will probably pick up once it gets closer to the election, but shuttling into work is never a bother because Simon loves his job.

"Nancy is an easy person to work for, because she's genuinely passionate about what she does," Simon says. "She flies home from D.C. almost every weekend, and when she's back, she travels around her district talking to Kansans. Because of all of the time she spends with voters, her policy is dead-on for her district."

Getting involved

With an interest in politics since he was young, Simon tries to stay tuned in to current events and to use politics as a means for change. Simon says things like the rising cost of tuition should yank students toward politics.

"The truth of the matter is that most politicians want to be re-elected, and if young people don't get involved and vote, then their issues won't be addressed," he says.

Michael Gray, a junior from Buhler, also funnels much of his time and energy into politics. He's been hooked since middle school. Then, he campaigned at the local level. Now, Gray's the legislative director for KU Student Senate, and he works to raise student awareness.

Gray says it's not so difficult. Shows like "The Daily Show," and "The Colbert Report" have greased the way by sparking interest, making it easier to slip students pamphlets packed with political information.

"Students are very interested," Gray says. "They are fairly unhappy with the status quo, and students are interested now more than ever."

Last semester Gray and some other students put up voter registration booths and signed up more than 300 people. Gray also sat in on Lawrence City Commission meetings to represent students on local issues. And at the end of the semester, he spent his winter break petitioning for Obama in Iowa, New Hampshire and Kansas. His next stop was Florida, where he campaigned for Obama in July.

Not always easy

The Obama campaign had its hurdles. In New Hampshire, Gray stood for hours in the snow clutching homemade posters as city traffic heaved past. In Iowa he went from house to house more than once, handing out campaign literature. People slammed doors. Dogs attacked him. But Gray kept knocking, unsure of what to expect. Not everyone tuned him out. Some people asked questions, others talked for 30 minutes.

"You just reach people via every vehicle you can find, whether by phone, or going door to door, or just being visible while they're driving," Gray says. "It can be a very uncomfortable experience. The majority of people don't want to talk to you."

To keep things interesting, Gray and other activists competed against each other, seeing who could get more people talking. The key to having a successful door-to-door campaign, Gray says, is gauging the person's attitude.

"You have about five seconds to feel the person out and know where the conversation can go," Gray says. "If the conversation is not going to go far, the most important thing is to give them the brochure."

Beka Romm, a KU graduate from Bennington, is familiar with the process. The former president of KU Republicans, Romm has been into politics since she was 3. Her father ushered her onto the campaign trail early on by hauling her door to door while campaigning for his favorite politicians.

Romm has what she calls "the fever," and she likes to boost student interest in politics. Last semester, she was the student outreach coordinator at Dole Institute of Politics. As part of her position, she tried to get students involved in elections and engaged in the community.

Training candidates

Now Romm works for American Majority in Topeka, where she identifies, recruits and trains people who are interested in squeezing into a political office. The training sessions show candidates how to effectively use media outlets and raise money.

Romm says people pursuing political office don't need to be persuaded to take training courses. Most are eager to join because taking classes can elevate their chance of success.

"Most candidates, when they first file, are very overwhelmed," Romm says. "They tend to know it's going to take a lot of work but aren't sure what to do first, so most are very ecstatic to be invited."

But one person won't be signing up for the training courses, at least any time soon. Simon says he loves politics, but likes where he's at, no matter how cold his hands get.

"I'm pretty satisfied with what I'm doing right now," he says. "Being behind the scenes is a lot of fun and it's very rewarding. Besides, I'm not sure I'd be a great candidate. I'm terrible with names."

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