Juneau teens head to Anchorage to participate in the Democratic Party State Convention

Hearing about politics in her house was normal growing up, 18-year-old Adrienne Audet said. She used to overhear conversations between her parents.

“I remember actually, when I was really young, hearing all this stuff about some ‘bush’ on the radio and they would always get really mad whenever they were talking about bush on the radio. And I was like who is this Bush? What is this ‘bush?’ Is some bush making you mad?” Audet said, laughing.

Those political discussions at a young age stuck with her. Now the Juneau-Douglas High School senior is one of more than 40 people from Juneau registered to be a delegate or a delegate alternate at the Alaska Democratic Party State Convention in Anchorage, which is taking place today through Sunday.

India Busby, a 19-year-old University of Alaska Southeast student, is another. Her political engagement stems from having differing views than her aunt and uncle, whom she lives with.

“They’re very conservative and religious people,” she said.

Busby said she and her aunt disagree on certain issues, like family planning.

“We have this ongoing joke where she doesn’t agree that I should be on birth control, so she’ll get really upset about it. It’s stuff like that. It comes to a point where, like, ‘My views are important, too. This affects me; it shouldn’t affect you,’” she said.

“I had to find something to show that my views were as important as theirs, so getting involved with politics, and what comes along with it, really helped. I didn’t realize how big of an impact it would have in my life. In high school, I didn’t care. Now that I’m in college and seeing the Legislature and all these different things, it made me realize how politics affects all of us,” Busby said.

She just finished her freshman year at UAS and is majoring in sociology, with a minor in political science.

“I want to run for office at some point, and if that doesn’t work out, then I’m probably going to try to become a Supreme Court Justice of the United States of America,” Busby said.

Audet is headed to Willamette University in Oregon, where she’s interested in studying political science.

“I don’t know if I want to be a politician, but I think the state convention will help me find out a little bit,” she said.

The two young women attended the Democratic Party caucus in Juneau on March 26 and decided to become delegates there. Both said it was an “impulsive” decision, but Busby said it was also fate.

She had been toying with the idea of becoming a delegate but unsure of what to do, “until this old lady in front of me turned around, and she’s like, ‘Young voters is what matters.’ Just this old lady who I didn’t know, she helped me make my decision. Obviously it was a sign.”

Audet and Busby are Bernie Sanders supporters. Sanders is changing the demographics of delegates at the state convention, Alaska Democratic Party spokesman Jake Hamburg said.

The Democratic Party doesn’t keep records of delegates’ ages, but anecdotally, Hamburg said, “This is definitely the youngest group overall. Typically, we don’t get younger folks, like 18- and 19-year-olds, running to be delegates. That’s pretty unusual,” he said. “The Bernie Sanders campaign has energized a younger demographic and brought them into the party.”

Besides Audet and Busby, JDHS senior Madeline Handley is another Juneau student attending the state democratic convention. She’s a Hillary Clinton supporter.

More than 550 people have registered to fill 539 delegate spots at the convention, Hamburg said. They will elect 16 pledged delegates to support one of the two remaining candidates at the Democratic National Convention taking place in Philadelphia in July. The Bernie Sanders delegates at the state convention will elect 13 pledged delegates to the national convention while Hillary Clinton’s delegates will elect three. There are four additional unpledged delegates, also known as “super delegates,” in addition to the 16 pledged.

Delegates at the state convention also do a host of other things, like vote on party plan, platform and resolutions. They elect regional vice-chairs and party officers.

Hamburg said it’s encouraging to see such young people get involved in the delegate process.

“They’re actually shaping the direction of the party at an early age, so they’re setting themselves up to be future leaders. They’re also providing a voice for a demographic that typically has not voted in the numbers that the older demographics have,” he said.

Because of that, he said issues such as college affordability, young families, equal pay and social issues are rising to the forefront.

Audet said she’s still holding out hope that Sanders will become the National Democratic nominee. But if it came down to a Clinton versus Donald Trump race, she said she’s torn.

“I want to say Hillary, but I’m not sure I’d want to give her my vote. I definitely don’t think I’d vote for Trump,” Audet said.

Busby said she’s pretty sure Clinton will be the nominee.

“If it came down it, I’d support her. It’s better than not voting at all, and voting is really important,” she said.

No matter what Democrat ends up running in the national presidential race, both Audet and Busby are just really excited to see what happens at a state convention, participate in their first one and learn a thing or two about what it takes to be a politician.

• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or lisa.phu@juneauempire.com.

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