June 21, 2004
Many of the East Valley’s most dedicated political activists have never cast a ballot or signed a petition because they are too young.
But they still plan to leave their stamp on the November elections.
"I’m not old enough to vote, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make a difference," said Steffanie Wynn, 17, who will be a senior at Scottsdale’s Saguaro High School.
Wynn was named the outstanding Teenage Republican in the nation last summer during an annual convention in Washington, D.C., and her Saguaro club was voted the outstanding Teenage Republican unit in the nation for the sixth time since 1981.
Saguaro history teacher Marianne McKay-Cox, who has sponsored the club for about seven years and was the nation’s outstanding adviser in 2001, said her Teenage Republicans march in the Parada del Sol and other parades, hold voter registration drives on campus for students turning 18, write letters to soldiers overseas, conduct fund-raisers, participate in mock legislative sessions at the state Capitol, engage campus Democrats in annual debates, clean litter from an adopted stretch of road, work the phones at various campaign headquarters and host Republican speakers on campus such as Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
"They need to form their opinions early so they vote," McKay-Cox said.
Ruben Alonzo, 22, a Young Democrat majoring in political science and anthropology at Arizona State University, said he has seen political activity among young people soar in recent years.
"Young people are more interested in human rights and global politics than people give them credit for," Alonzo said. "It’s really a direct result of Sept. 11."
Teenage Republican Dan Caldwell of Scottsdale, who will be a senior this year at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, said the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1998, the Florida ballot recounts in 2000 and the Iraq war have also caught the attention of his peers.
"It’s forced a lot of young people to take sides," said Caldwell, 17.
Political interest also tends to spike upward during presidential election seasons.
"There are a lot of kids in Arizona who are excited about the president," said Manny Espinoza, 24, state chairman of Students for Bush. "They’re giving up their summer to help re-elect President Bush."
Espinoza said he has seen students as young as 15 get involved in the Bush campaign, and even more at the college level.
He said ASU, with about 2,600 volunteers, has the largest Students for Bush chapter in the nation.
Lois Fitch, who started the Teenage Republicans club at Saguaro in 1970 and now serves as state Teenage Republican coordinator, will travel July 10 to Washington, D.C., with 24 students for the annual Teenage Republican convention.
She said she launched the teenage program in Arizona during the protest era because her students needed a way for their voices to be heard.
"I saw where the kids were on the outside looking in, and they needed to be included in the process," she said.