BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — A historic moment is upon us and the country is about to decide its direction for the next four years and beyond.
And we in Kern County are about to get a glimpse of not only our national direction but our regional political future too.
In an important side plot to the balloting taking place across the U.S., we’ll be learning about Southern Valley leadership for the decade ahead — based in part on voter turnout among younger voters and the success of the several 20-somethings in various local races.
Two political groups that cater to younger voters are right in the middle of it — Kern County Young Republicans and Kern County Young Democrats
The bloc of voters between the ages of 18 and 35 is potentially a large one.
But you wouldn’t know it based on registration numbers and actual voter turnout.
Younger Kern County residents — in a reflection of the national picture — just don’t vote in the same numbers as, say, voters over the age of 65.
But here — where we live — a handful of local organizations are working to change that — in terms of energizing the youngest segments of the electorate, and educating them.
Two in particular are significant.
Meet Vvette Flores, president of the Young Democrats of Kern County.
“I think there’s a really strong base of Democrats in Kern County,” Flores said. “I think we’re really seeing the demographics naturally shifting. 35 percent of the electorate here is 18 to 35 years old. So you have already a good amount of young people and those young people tend to have a more liberal perspective. We’re actually going in and we’re pre-registering young people and we’re educating them on the importance of voting.”
Kevin Reed of the Kern County Young Republicans — who share office space with the Republican Party’s local headquarters and Western Pacific Research, a prominent campaign consulting firm — says his group is the best party in town.
“We’re the boots on the ground, whether it be making phone calls or going door to door,” Reed said. “We pride ourselves on the work that we do to elect conservative candidates to office.
“The age range for our membership is between 18 and 39. We’re constantly doing fun stuff. We have a clay shoot coming up. But it’s people that come together that share the same values — limited government, that want to see a strong economy.”
These aren’t just auxiliary organizations — something to keep the kids busy while the adults plot political strategy and promote their candidates. These groups are the pulse of their local party apparatuses, the lifeblood, the future.
The poster politician for the transition is Congressman Kevin McCarthy, who was the local and then national chairman of the Young Republicans in the immediate run-up to his own political career.
Republican Cathy Abernathy of Western Pacific Research says the Young Republicans are a vital link to the party’s continued strength in Kern County.
“I’ve taken political science,” she said. “I’ve taught political science, but if you want to know how to run a campaign and what it takes, the work involved, the precincts, the phoning, the walking, the rallies, you run it through the Young Republicans.
“I often meet people that want to be candidates for office but they’ve never done any of that. And until you’ve done it, you really don’t appreciate what it takes to be a good candidate. So it’s a great training ground.”
Democrat Jose Gurrola, elected mayor of Arvin at age 23, is one of the best local examples of the pipeline on the Democratic side. Now 27, he’s one of the elder statesmen among a rising tide of young elected Democrats.
A lot of the candidates that Young Democrats get behind have issues and policy platforms that speak to younger voters,” he said. “Immigration, climate change, the environment, going after corruption, making our democracy work for everyone.”
Anyone who wants a feel for how voter registration and local representation will play out over the next decade ought to keep an eye on the health and vitality of these two organizations, the Triple-A farm teams for Kern County’s two main political factions.