Box Elder County high school students set political clubs

Friday , February 28, 2014 - 12:09 PM

Tim Gurrister, Standard-Examiner Staff

BRIGHAM CITY — Republicans here are setting up programs in the county’s two high schools to introduce youngsters to party ideals.

And Democrats say it just suggests a possible weakness in the Republican hold on the state.

Tonya Donaldson and Oakley Nelson of the Box Elder County Republican executive committee are, respectively, forming Teen Age Republicans chapters in Box Elder High in Brigham City, and Bear River High, in Tremonton.

They’re meeting with school officials and students to fill out the forms, designate a faculty advisor and sign up the minimum three students necessary to establish the extracurricular clubs.

“We want to introduce them to conservative principles and the proper functions of government,” Donaldson said. “They’ll do everything from service projects to joining election campaigns.”

The idea is to show the party off as more inclusive, they said, as opposed to the partisan political scene of Washington D.C. with discord that can shut down governments.

The big bonus of TAR membership is the chance to work in election campaigns from local races to the congressional.

“There’s a passion that comes with being part of a campaign,” Nelson said. “And we’ll utilize the TARs for that. And they’ll see how they can play a role in policy-making.”

Donaldson, of Willard, and Nelson, of Elwood, are working with Jaime Munns, of Garland, another member of the county executive committee who is also an advisor to the state party’s TAR committee.

TARs have been around nationally since the 1970s but are relatively new to Utah. There may only be a handful currently operating in high schools around the state, Nelson said.

“We’re walking some uncharted ground,” he said.

“We do our outreach to students a little differently than the GOP,” said Anna Thompson, state Democratic Party communications director.

She deferred to T. J. Ellerbeck, president of Young Democrats of Utah, or YDU, for the detail on the party stance toward youth, which currently includes no plans for a TAR-like effort in the Box Elder high schools.

Ellerbeck said the state party apparatus includes a High School Caucus, something of a “sub-caucus” of the YDU. It may number only about a hundred students in high schools around the state, he said.

But the need isn’t as pressing for Democrats, he said, since teen voters lean toward Democrats.

“Younger voters are more likely to support Democrats, even in Utah,” Ellerbeck said. “And it may be close to a 2 to 1 margin.”

Which, he said, may be why Republicans are pursuing Teen Age Republican chapters, even in a county where virtually every elected official is Republican.

“So it’s an area where they might be hurting for support and would want to make some gains.”

Contact reporter Tim Gurrister at 801-625-4238, Follow him on Twitter at @tgurrister

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