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Berkeleyan

They may not win...
But three gubernatorial hopefuls under 30 are happy to promote youth activism

| 24 September 2003

 

student candidates

Youthful gubernatorial candidates Brooke Adams (left), Jason Gastrich, and Georgy Russell appeared at a campus forum last week. Though their political philosophies vary — Adams is an Independent, Gastrich a Republican, and Russell a Democrat— their commitment to involving other young people in the political process emerged as a common value.
Jesse Gabriel photo

Like most debates among candidates for any prestigious political office, the Sept. 15 campus forum featured gubernatorial hopefuls articulating their differing positions on fiscal issues, social policy, and campaign reform. But at this particular debate, hosted by Berkeley’s Center on Politics, something seemed a little different.

Georgy Russell’s website sale of thong underwear, stamped with her campaign logo, underscored the ways in which younger candidates have used the Internet and free media to bolster their campaigns. Russell, a 26-year-old software engineer (and Cal graduate) who is running as a Democrat, also has a popular weblog that was recently named best candidate “blog” by the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review. Both the blog and the underwear (along with more conventional campaign paraphernalia) help direct people to Russell’s website (www.georgyforgov.com), where the candidate’s platform and issue positions are explained in detail.

Brooke Adams, a 25-year-old business executive running as an Independent, also eagerly promoted her sophisticated website (www.brookeforgovernor.com) during the forum. On Adams’ site, one can buy t-shirts and calendars (but no underwear), and see the candidate’s appearances on CNN and Fox News. Jason Gastrich, 29, a Ph.D. candidate and Republican running as a write-in, encouraged the audience to visit his website (">www.jasongastrich.com) to listen to “Bye Bye, Bill Simon,” his latest recall-related musical composition.

All three candidates made a point of emphasizing their accessibility to voters through their websites and e-mail. Gastrich went even further, inviting audience members to call him on his cell phone, a step unlikely to be taken by Gray Davis or Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Speaking on the day that a California appeals court postponed the recall election, both Gastrich and Russell said that they were pleased to have more time to express their messages. A delay would be “awesome for grassroots campaigns,” said Russell. In contrast, Adams said that the elections should go forward because Californians “want alternative leadership,” and she predicted (correctly) that the court-ordered delay would be overturned.

The three candidates had three different takes on the recall’s dominant issue: the budget crisis. Gastrich echoed Arnold Schwarzenegger by calling for an audit of the state’s books and argued that, by running as a write-in candidate (and so avoiding the $3,500 filing fee), he was demonstrating his fiscal conservatism. Adams expressed her support for a flat tax, saying that, as governor, she would call a special session of the legislature to deal with the budget. Finally, Russell said that to help balance the budget she would reform Proposition 13, institute a temporary tax increase on the wealthy, and impose a tax on Indian gaming.

Fee increase a ‘slap in the face’
While the candidates addressed these issues and many others during the 90-minute debate, they spoke with the most passion on issues of importance to younger people. In response to a question about recent UC student-fee hikes, Adams declared that “it is the older generation’s responsibility to provide young people with opportunity,” a sentiment echoed by the other candidates. Russell was more combative, saying that Davis and the legislature “slapped young people in the face” when they raised college fees.

For the 30 members of the audience (including about 10 members of the press), the debate offered a rare opportunity to see young candidates attempt to mount serious campaigns for important political office. While the candidates disagreed on many of the issues raised at the debate, they all seemed to hold in common the message behind one candidate’s political slogan: “It’s time for our generation to lead.”

The debate was co-sponsored by Mobilizing America’s Youth, an organization devoted to increasing civic participation by young people, and Party Y, a group that promotes young candidates by connecting them with youthful voters.