My parents tell me that I ran before I walked. So they were not surprised when, as an 18 year-old and newly registered voter, I decided to run for the Hawaii House of Representatives before I even started voting.
If it is important enough to vote in the election, then why not actually be the one elected?
I must admit that I have some advantages over the typical 18 year-old. I was homeschooled all my life on a self-sufficient, sustainable farm and nature preserve, given a customized and self-directed education by phenomenal, well-educated parents. The world was my laboratory and living life my lesson plan.
Instead of getting diplomas, I got licenses. For example, at age thirteen I became interested in amateur radio, and earned the Amateur Extra license, the highest in amateur radio. At sixteen I became a licensed pilot. I earned money to fund my flying by training horses and riders and doing farrier work. At seventeen I obtained my GROL, or General Radiotelephone Operators License.
I am also a beekeeper and bee rescuer, removing and saving hives from places where they are not wanted, like inside someone’s wall. When I am not busy with all of the above or with repairs to the machinery and electronic equipment on our farm, I play the flute and guitar, or I surf. I also practice stunts on my horses, like riding with no controls or saddle and standing on the horse’s back.
I decided to run for office because I wanted to see how the government works from the inside, how politicians get corrupted, and to blow the whistle on the corruption. I also wanted to learn the skills needed to be a politician, such as public speaking, clear communication, and awareness of the different issues people care about, and helping voice their concerns to the rest of the government.
To some, my age was a problem. While state law allows an 18 year-old to run for the State House, a cultural prejudice against young people makes an 18 year-old candidate a joke in many voters’ minds.
Not everyone is prejudiced against young people. Some appreciated my political virginity, which made them feel I wasn’t going to screw them. To them, “politically experienced” means “corrupted.” Many people told me they had not voted for years out of disgust with the corrupted political system, but were encouraged by my campaign and decided to vote for me.
What I have found quite interesting, and somewhat shocking, is that most young people don’t care anymore. They feel like their voice and vote don’t matter, so why bother. They are frustrated with how things are, how the system is run without asking them their opinion. Many of them give up, when faced with the immense task of fighting the system for their voice to be heard.
I have spoken with many 18-20 year olds who were very supportive and excited about my campaign, but they fell short when it came time to vote, many not even being registered. Some said that it didn’t matter if they voted for me, either because the vote wouldn’t be counted because the election is rigged, or because only one vote would not matter. Most of my voting supporters were in the 40-70 year old range, who, for the most part, were disillusioned, disenfranchised, and fed up with the system, and were excited about my youth and idealism.
The best part of running is that I immediately became a celebrity. My name was in the newspapers, my signs were all over, I spoke at debates, and I waved along the road while sitting on my horse, Koa. Everybody got to know me and most respected what I was doing, even if they were not going to vote for me. But I also felt that everyone was watching me everywhere I went, which is stressful, especially when someone who supports another candidate is looking for anything to condemn you.
In the beginning, I was condemned for running as a nonpartisan, an apparent sign of my political naivety. I want to be a voice of the people, not of some party. But to get elected in Hawaii, I discovered, you need to be a party member because of the anti-nonpartisan bias in Hawaii’s election laws. In other words, if you’re not a Democrat or a Republican, forget it. And without term limits, it is virtually impossible to get these people out of office.
Will I try running again? I’m not sure. I lost the election, but I gained lots of friends and experience. However, now that I have had a behind the scenes look at politics and politicians, and the corruption built into the system, I am not sure I will even want to vote again.
Right now, only a few days after the primary election, I feel relief that the campaign is over. But who knows what the future will bring. After all, I’m only 18.
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