BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — There’s a small but unmistakable wave of candidates age 26 or younger running for office in Kern County in this election — most of them registered Democrats running for nonpartisan offices.
Once upon a time this much youth all at once was rare. Not anymore.
When Willie Rivera was elected to the Bakersfield City Council in 2013 at age 22 he became the youngest elected official in the city’s history. Today he would be just one of the gang.
At least four people ages 26 or younger — all of them Democrats, three of them Latino, are on the ballot. Bakersfield City Council candidates Eric Arias, 24, and Jesse Quijada, 22, are both running for open seats.
Delano City Council candidate Sal Solorio Ruiz is just 24. He would join another 24-year-old Democrat on the city council, Brian Osario.
And 26th Assembly District candidate Drew Phelps of Tulare, 26, who is trying to dethrone a well entrenched Republican, Devon Mathis.
Factor in Jose Gurrola, elected mayor of Arvin at age 23, and up for re-election at age 27, and that’s a lot of young male Democrats.
Are we ready for this onslaught of 20-somethings on the ballot?
Absolutely, says Arias, who’s hoping to replace Rivera — who is not seeking re-election.
“I’m running for Bakersfield City Council Ward 1 for a simple reason: because I love this community and I want to make a difference,” Arias said.
Quijada, seeking the Ward 6 seat being vacated by Jacquie Sullivan, says he’s ready.
“So I’m hoping everyone feels the enthusiasm and gets out there to vote and we have a great turnout on election day,” he said.
Ruiz says it’s time for a new generation of leaders.
“It’s about standing on your own two feet,” he said, “and saying, ‘If they do not represent me, if they are not putting forth the issues that matter to the community, then I — I’m running’.”
Phelps says he’s ready. But is the Southern Valley ready for all this youth?
“I would take that a step further, beyond just young people in general,” he said. “I would say young people in rural areas getting involved within their communities is incredibly important. So often you hear, whether it’s when you’re in high school or it’s when you’re talking to those students, they always say, ‘Well I just want to get out of the valley, or the Kern River Valley,’ wherever they may be, to go move somewhere else, to an urban area, and so often that’s not necessarily the best solution. Why not stick around?”
It’s about ability to lead, not numbers on a birth certificate. But convincing the electorate … that’s what matters right now.