04/27/08 — Best promotes voting to teen peers

View Archive

Best promotes voting to teen peers

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 27, 2008 2:00 AM

For somebody active in the Democratic Party, active in the campaigns of gubernatorial candidates and in other races, casting a simple one-stop early ballot wouldn't normally be a big deal.

But when that somebody is the 17-year-old president of the North Carolina Teen Dem-ocrats and is voting in her first election, that changes the equation just a little bit.

"I was a little nervous," Eastern Wa-yne High School junior Hailey Best said about going with her mom to vote on Tuesday.

"Because I knew a lot of the people on my ballot it was hard to make some of the decisions, but I didn't leave any blank," she said. "It was really exciting and definitely a day to remember. It felt grownup."

And that's an experience she wants other teens to have.

"That's my big thing -- voting," she said.

It's something that she's stressed as president of the state organization and as president of the Wayne County Teen Democrats, where she began the Young Educated Voters Program in the county's high schools, and helped organize voter registration drives both in school and out in the county.

"A big part of it is people just don't want to go register," she said. "So we make it easy for them. We're trying to register as many people as we can, whether they're Republican, Democrat or independent. We just want people to vote. It's an exciting year."

After all, getting people -- especially youth -- involved in politics is the main goal of the Teen Democrats.

"North Carolina used to have one of the largest Teen Democrats in the nation, but since 10 years ago we've been one of the smallest," she said.

That, however, is beginning to change.

Statewide, the organization, which is for 13- to 19-year olds, boasts approximately 230 members, with 15 in Wayne County.

As president -- voted into office in September -- Hailey said she hopes to continue that upward trend.

"I just thought, what better time than an election year to do that," she said. "The teens want to be involved. They just a need a leader who can push them, and I think I can do that."

And that's what it's all about -- getting involved and making people aware that teens and young Americans do care about the political process and the future of the country.

"Some teens want to be involved. Some could care less. But the ones who do, really want their voices to be heard," Hailey said. "They say the average age in the legislature is over 50, and I think sometimes they don't fully understand what we're pushing for. We really just want them to not forget about us. We want them to remember they represent young people as well.

"Teens just want more representation. Some can't even vote, but they want to have the right people in office. And we'll obviously be respected more as a group than as individuals."

And if that group is active in helping get those officials elected on both local and state levels, then perhaps, she added, it will "make them want to help."

Currently, she's working on campaigns for both Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, and state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, who is running for re-election.

Because the party doesn't officially take sides in the primary, though, the only reason she's allowed to continue in their campaigns is because she was volunteering for both before she was elected -- even though her introduction to politics came from state Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne.

"My whole family is Republican. He is a family friend," she said, explaining that she worked as a page for him last summer at the urging of her mother, Kim Best (father, Michael Best).

But it was because of that opportunity to work in Raleigh that she became a Democrat

After finishing her week with Pate, she continued to volunteer for other legislators, most notably Tricia Ann Cotham, D-Mecklenburg, the youngest state legislator, as well as Mrs. Perdue.

"I just fell in love with it and just really started meeting people," Hailey said. "And after a lot of research and listening to different opinions, I made my decision (to become a Democrat)."

And as such, she's excited about this year's primaries -- the state and local ones, but also the big ticket presidential one between U.S. Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

"It's historic. It's something different. And a lot of people want to be involved in it, and the fact that North Carolina's primary is going to make a difference has got people even more involved," she said, still declining to take sides. "I think they're both good candidates. We'll see what happens. It's going to be close. They both better keep working hard."