Despite the keynote speaker delivering his address through Skype instead of in person and the presence of a tracker for the Republican Party, the College Democrats heard from the head of Michigan’s Democratic Party on Thursday about how young people can become involved in politics.
MDP Chair Brandon Dillon, who was elected in July after former chair Lon Johnson stepped down to run for Congress, was originally scheduled to speak in the Michigan Union. An upcoming event with presidential candidate Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, conflicted with the plans and led him to Skype in to the event instead.
O’Malley is slated to appear in Dearborn, Mich. on Friday as part of a conference hosted by the Arab American Institute. During the appearance, he will discuss policy issues affecting Arab Americans and how they can be a part of the discussion during the 2016 campaign season.
“(Even with the schedule conflict), Dillon still wanted to support students and reach out to us,” said Public Policy senior Max Lerner, chair of the College Democrats. “Despite some technical difficulties, it all worked out.”
Through a projection of a Skype video chat onto the wall of the Parker Room of the Michigan Union, Dillon told the crowd of about 30 that if they wish to run for office, he would encourage them to do it, even at a young age.
He recounted his first electoral bid for County Commission when he was 30 years old that ultimately failed by only 100 votes.
“If you’re thinking of running for an office, go talk to somebody that currently holds that office, whether it’s the school board, county commissioner or state representative,” he said. “The first thing you should realize is that if you want to do it, then you’re probably just as qualified as anybody else.”
Dillon ultimately found electoral success in running for Kent County commissioner and, subsequently, the state’s House of Representatives. He served as the commissioner for one year and as the representative for Michigan’s 75th district for four years before resigning to serve as MDP chair last August.
“We’d love for you to become part of the Democratic Party,” he said. “We want young people to become more of a part of the party structure.”
Dillon also shared his goals to reshape the Michigan Democratic Party as its chair, with more emphasis on grassroots and young-voter input rather than what he called a “top-down approach.” The eventual goal: retake the State House and governor’s office.
He said a recent survey would be set the tone for a new statewide Democratic strategic planning initiative that will begin this Saturday.
“We’ll be getting input on what we need to do better, what our challenges are, and how we can get young people and non-traditional Democratic voters to come out,” Dillon said.
Also present at the event was LSA sophomore Grant Strobl, president of the University’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, who was recording the event.
“It’s not something we’ve had in the past,” Lerner said, regarding Strobl. “But we hope to persuade people in other political student organizations.”
When contacted by The Michigan Daily Thursday evening, Strobl acknowledged he was recording the event on the behalf of the Michigan Republican Party.