10/04/07 — Legislator speaks to city youth council

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Legislator speaks to city youth council

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on October 4, 2007 2:06 PM

State Rep. Tricia Cotham started in politics at an age when most of her contemporaries were more worried about boys having cooties and playing kickball at recess, she told members of the Goldsboro Mayor's Youth Council Wednesday.

At age 10, she noticed that not enough people were voting -- especially women and minorities.

So, when her mother asked her what she was going to do about it, she decided to volunteer to help people register to vote.

"Every Saturday, this little freckle-faced, white girl was running around inner city neighborhoods trying to get people to vote," she said.

And so, a career in politics began.

Today, she holds the seat once held by former state Speaker of the House Jim Black in Mecklenburg County -- at 28.

She is the youngest current member of the N.C. House of Representatives.

Back in those early days, she learned politics was easier than getting people to care.

During her voter registration campaign, doors were shut in her face, and single mothers told her they didn't have the time.

"I realized we had to change this attitude," she said.

So, she continued her efforts to encourage more people to vote.

In middle school, she volunteered with a county party, and won an award that allowed her to ride in the presidential motorcade with soon-to-be-president Bill Clinton.

Years later, in high school, she said she would disagree with her teachers and her parents, always thinking they were wrong. In turn, she joined the debate team, where she won a national title.

"I learned to value differences," she said of the experience.

In 1998, she said she was walking down Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, and a man was running beside her. He told her that he was going to be the next senator.

"I thought he was good-looking, for an older man, so I said, 'I'll help you,'" she said.

That man was Sen. John Edwards.

After he won, he came over to Ms. Cotham, hugged her and thanked her.

"I truly felt that I helped this man with an office," she said.

She was his very first intern in Washington, D.C., and after that she traveled to Havana, Cuba, to learn about communism during a study abroad program.

She said she left Cuba realizing how great democracy is.

"We don't value all the rights we have," she said. "Understand that democracy is the very best thing. Don't ever take these freedoms for granted."

And to ensure those freedoms, she pushed the youths in the room to go out and vote, to encourage others to vote and to join some part of politics to become aware of what happens in the nation every day.

"This is in your reach as well," she said of her position. "I think young people bring a different perspective to politics. I encourage you to be active in your government. It's not just a government of your parents or grandparents or mayor. This is your government."

She wanted to make sure the youths understood their role in the nation.

"It is your obligation to never miss an election, especially if you are a female or an African American," she said. "Get your parents, teachers, everybody to vote."

At the end of her speech, she gave the audience ideas on how to become involved with politics, even if they weren't 18 years old yet.

"Every single one of you in this room can do something," she said. "I hope that in 10 years, one of you is up here speaking. Believe it or not, you have the right to be heard."