Derek Campbell, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Kentucky, started this event last year because of his love of politics.
“The more and more I looked back and I looked around, I saw I have always been actively engaged in politics,” said Campbell. “Probably since I was eight years old, I spent as much time in Frankfort as I did in school.”
Campbell wanted to help educate the next generation of voters about what it means to vote and making sure they know what, who and how they vote. He hoped by letting students know about the political process he could inspire them to want to be a part of it.
“I saw that folks my age really weren’t jumping in and being a part of the political process,” he continued. “They weren’t grabbing on to what could potentially be the most powerful tool they will ever have.”
The program, held at the Hal Rodgers Forum, allowed politicians from the Democratic and Republican parties tell about their parties and why they joined the parties they did.
“They present about the parties, about their current political standings, maybe a little bit about the candidates they have running in the upcoming election, then they are open to questions from the audience,” said Debra Combs, education and community liaison for this political education program.
Campbell initially created this program for his home high school at Perry Central. This year he expanded the program and invited many different schools including Hazard High School, Cordia, Buckhorn and Jackson Independent.
“Hopefully this inspires people to get more involved,” Combs added. “There is definitely a community involvement component, volunteerism, to get people more involved and more active.”
The Breathitt County Property Valuation Administrator Ervine Allen, Jr., spoke on behalf of the Democratic Party, and spoke about the importance of voting and the sacrifice our country had made to maintain that right.
“Registering to vote is a sacred process, that has been died for by many people, many have died for this right,” said Allen.
Allen said that he registered to vote in 1963 so that he would be able to vote in the gubernatorial primary. He said that ever since then he has not missed an election.
“Once you have registered, never miss an opportunity to vote,” he added.
Allen said that stereotypes have shaped how Americans view the political parties.
“If you are a Democrat you are supposed to believe in big budgets and deficit spending, and supposedly you are an atheist or the next thing to it,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the Democrats that I know personally believe in balanced budgets and paying their debts, moreover, most go to church.”
The representative for the Republican Party was state Sen. Brandon Smith, of Perry County.
“I asked my family, my mother in particular, why she was registered how she was, and the standard answered which has rung true in the mountains for many years was, because daddy was,” said Smith.
Smith said that when he went to register he wanted to be sure of what he was signing up for. He said that like a football player puts on a uniform and then represents his school and every person that has worn that uniform before him, politics is the same way. “Before I put on the uniform I wanted to find out exactly who I was playing for.”
After the representatives spoke and answered questions, Perry County Clerk Haven King was on hand to register students that were eligible to vote.
Campbell said that he wants to make sure that young people are educated on the issues and on politics before they get to the polls to vote.
“I wanted to make sure that they didn’t grow up and be politically illiterate, but they knew the challenges that would face Kentucky and that they wouldn’t be fooled by politicians, but that they would be able to hold people to task and to send people the Frankfort, or to Washington or the courthouse, wherever they may be, who really stand by their values and who really stand by what they thought,” he said.
Campbell said he hopes that the United We Stand Voter Education Program helps to get younger people involved in politics earlier so when it comes time for them to become the leaders of the nation they will be prepared. “They are the leaders, the change starts now.”