Youths Take On The Gop

Young Democrats Proud Of Their Party

May 12, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

They're young, they're determined, and they say nobody -- not CountyExecutive Robert R. Neall, not even President Bush -- is going to stop them.

They are the Anne Arundel County Young Democrats, a new group dedicated to the premise that just because you grew up in the Reagan-Bush era doesn't mean you should turn Republican.

"The majority of the Democratic Party now is an older crowd. Our goal is to open the eyes of the younger ones," says Glen Burnie's David Guite, 25, a nephew of Democratic County Councilman David G. Boschert.

Since its first meeting in February, the group, open to Democrats 35 years old and under, has attracted about 35 members ages 18 to 33, says President Steve Thomas, a 22-year-old political science student from Ferndale.

They've gotten assistance from Sen. Michael Wagner, D-Ferndale, and U.S. Representative Tom McMillen, D-4th. At a recent fund-raiser, they raised $1,000.

The Young Democrats have aways to go to catch up with the Young Republicans of Anne Arundel County, which has been around for years and boasts about 150 members, age 40 and under.

"They must be running a little scared," said Laura Green Treffer, president of the local Republican Central Committee.

After last November's election, local Democratic leaders acknowledged they were concerned enough about lackluster registration to consider going to schools and recruiting young people. Now they hope the Young Democrats can do that job.

"Maybe they can relate better to the younger group than we can," said Mary Ann Love, chairman of the local Democratic Central Committee.

The Young Democrats areready and willing -- and they don't sound a bit scared. Energetic and well-informed, they have sharply defined opinions on political issues, including the question of why young people are registering Republican.

Many of the charter members have worked in campaigns or interned withDemocratic leaders.

When he was 10, Thomas worked in Wagner's 1978 campaign; more recently, he interned with Wagner and McMillen.

Twenty-year-old Elena Sophocleus, daughter of former county CouncilmanTheodore J. Sophocleus, has been working for her father ever since she can remember. She was a constant presence in his unsuccessful campaign for county executive last fall.

Guite, a graduate law student, has interned with Sen. Philip Jimeno of Brooklyn Park and DelegatesRay Huff of Pasadena and Charles "Stokes" Kolodziejski of Carvel Beach. He also interned on Capitol Hill with Illinois Representative DanRostenkowski.

"That's where I have seen the Republican National Committee operate. It's pathetic," Guite says.

Of course, the Democratic national party is none too healthy itself right now -- a fact the Young Democrats recognize as a major hindrance to their cause. Thepresident -- often the only politician young people can identify -- has been a Republican for the last 11 years.

"I've had friends whoregistered Republican. I asked them why, and they said, 'I don't know. The president's a Republican,' " Sophocleus said.

Young people have no understanding of the ideological differences between the parties, the Young Democrats say. "If you ask them for their opinions, often you get a Democratic point of view," Thomas said.

With the presidential election just 1 1/2 years away and no strong Democratic contender in sight, the Young Democrats are trying to divert attention from the national to the local political scene.

"National politics doesn't affect the lives of young people here every day," Guite says."Local politics and local political party is what affects our lives."

Treffer, the GOP central committee chairwoman, agreed that her party's strength among young people owes more to who the president is than to an understanding of ideological differences. "When (Ronald) Reagan got elected, that's when we really started to see an increase,"she said.

Between 1986 and 1990, local Democratic registration among voters under age 21 dropped from 3,639 to 3,006, while Republicanvoters in that same age group increased from 3,677 to 4,796.

Getting young people to look away from the national scene will be easier said than done, Treffer predicts. "The focus is always going to be onthe national leadership, unless someone is really into the issues and wants to follow their local senator or delegate."

Still, the Young Democrats remain optimistic -- even about the chances that a serious Democratic presidential candidate will emerge. They mention Tennessee Sen. Al Gore most frequently.

They also are unimpressed and unintimidated by Neall, the Republican county executive, as a force in influencing young people.

"Mr. Neall's just mimicking what the (Democratic) County Council has done for the past four years," Guite said.

A greater obstacle than either Neall or the national political situation is the overwhelming apathy among young people when it comesto political issues, the Young Democrats say.

"They just don't think they have a voice," Sophocleus said. "They feel, 'I can vote if Iwant, but what's the difference?' When I worked for my father, I heard that all the time -- 'What difference am I going to make?' "

The group meets once a month, usually the third Wednesday of each month, at Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie.

For more information,call 768-4770.

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