Teenage delegates to county caucus say they’re motivated by Obama



For The Beachcomber

Nick Bordner, a Vashon High School senior, is fourth in his class, a member of the lacrosse team and an avid Ultimate Frisbee player.

Nathan Ott, also a senior, plays baseball and drums for the high school marching and jazz bands, as well as a local band named “Salivation.”

Laura Hicks, who attends Tacoma Community College as a Running Start student, is a lifelong dancer who escapes from mountains of homework by taking swing and ballroom dance classes on the Island.

Like many Island teens, they’re busy and productive, juggling school, friends and family life, planning for college and pursuing a dizzying array of extracurricular activities. But Bordner, Hicks and Ott recently surprised even themselves by taking on yet another big responsibility: On Feb. 9, they were elected by their Vashon Democratic precinct caucuses to serve as Barack Obama delegates to the upcoming legislative district caucus.

None of the teenagers had attended the caucus with the goal of becoming delegates. But swept up in the excitement of casting their first-ever votes amidst the controlled chaos generated by 1,663 caucus-goers packed into McMurray Middle School last month, all three teens impulsively decided — or were encouraged by their friends, parents or neighbors — to stand for election as delegates. And at least one of them won by a landslide.

“I got 45 votes, the most votes of anyone in the Shawnee precinct,” recalled Laura Hicks with an air of amazement. “The next closest person got 32 votes.”

In addition to Bordner, Ott, and Hicks’ election, several other Vashon teens were elected to serve as alternate delegates. All of them must now pass through the gauntlet of Washington State Democratic party process — including more delegate elections — that leads to the National Convention in Denver in August. This includes the legislative district caucus (to be held April 5 at West Seattle High School), followed by the King County Convention (slated for April 13, also at West Seattle High), the 7th Congressional District Caucus and the State Convention. At the last two pit stops in this process, the final slate of 97 delegates from Washington will be elected to go to the National Convention.

The daunting commitment and series of steps ahead hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm or ambition of rookie delegates Bordner, Ott, and Hicks.

“It would be great to go to the National Convention,” said Bordner, who is preparing for the April 5 caucus by researching the candidates’ records, preparing position papers on various subjects and keeping up with the news and election results.

“Yes, I’d love to go to the National Convention,” said Ott, who is also staying abreast of the issues and the news.

Hicks, Ott and Bordner are part of a nationwide surge among voters between the ages of 18 and 29 who support Obama, the Illinois senator who, by many accounts, is generating more energy than any recent presidential candidate.

Record-shattering turnouts by young voters have been credited as the decisive factor in Obama’s wins in many states, beginning in Iowa, where 17,000 voters aged 25 and under threw their support to the candidate. Obama won that state by only 20,000 votes. In subsequent primaries and caucuses, Obama has consistently captured the youth vote by sizeable margins. And many national figures who have endorsed Obama — including Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and Caroline Kennedy — have cited the influence and opinions of their own teenaged children as factors in their decisions.

Here on Vashon, the national trend — and Obama’s lock on the youth vote — holds.

“All the Island youth I’ve talked to, with very few exceptions, support Obama,” said Ott. “Obama does a much better job getting in touch with youth. He seems more real.”

Said Hicks, “I feel like he’s speaking directly to me.”

Speaking to the transformational appeal of Obama’s candidacy, Ott said, “I believe it’s time that we had someone who will change the way things are done, and I think Barack Obama is that person.”

Obama’s stance on the war has been a determining factor for Bordner, whose interest in foreign policy was partially shaped by his experience living in Costa Rica as an exchange student during his junior year.

“I got the same reaction not only from people in Costa Rica, but also from all the international students I met: U.S. foreign policy was universally despised,” he recalled. “I think that the Bush administration and the Iraq war have destroyed the rest of the world’s esteem for us.”

Bordner believes that an Obama presidency will help restore the United States’ reputation in the world and said he is impressed that “Obama has taken a solid stance on the war, and spoken out against it.”

Hicks agreed, saying that she thinks Obama has the best chance of defeating John McCain and bringing the troops home. “Please, not another 100 years in Iraq. That’s not what this country needs,” she emphatically added.

Ott is equally convinced.

“The U.S. doctrine of pre-emptive strike needs to end. It leads to terrible things,” he said. “We need to get back our standing in the international community.”

All three students have closely followed election news and results since the Washington precinct caucus in February. While all three expressed dismay at what they feel is the more negative tone the campaign has taken on since the state’s precinct caucuses, they said they continue to be impressed by Obama.

“He’s handled a lot of attacks and rumors very well. He’s fighting back, but in a good way, with wit and intelligence,” said Ott. “He’s taken the high road.”

“Everything I’ve seen has confirmed my support of Obama,” said Bordner. “There’s a consistency on his part.”

Bordner and Ott were elected as Quartermaster precinct delegates on a slate that also includes Ott’s mother, Elaine Ott.

“It’s exciting to see Nathan’s interest in all this ramping up,” she said. “We’re a very political family, very vocal. I’m very proud of his involvement at such a young age.”

Bordner also described his family as “politically aware” and said that he has attended protests against the Iraq war with his parents.

Hicks described her family as “conscious and informed,” though not “get in your face, stand-on-the-street corner types.” Instead, interest in current events, and political discussion, have simply been a staple of her family life.

Said Hicks, “It’s important to know what’s going on in the world and be an informed voter. I only started paying attention to politics within the past four years, so really all I’ve known is George Bush’s presidency. I can honestly say I am ready for something to change. I am ready to read the news in the morning and feel like everything might be alright for once.”

“This election determines the world I’m moving into,” added Bordner. “That’s why it is so important to me. That’s my world. That’s my future.”