Affordable housing, increasing revenue, safe schools, job creation – these are just a few common issues that thread many candidates together. One thing that’s different is generation. Compared to the two men running for president, both in their 70s, many candidates for local office are in their 20s and 30s.
The youngest candidate in Monterey County is Anthony Rocha, who turned 21 during shelter-in-place. Rocha is hardly a dark horse candidate. He’s been in an elected position as a trustee of the Salinas Union High School District since 2018. Inspired by 2016’s then-presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, he ran to make sure that students had a decision-making voice in the district from which he graduated.
Two years into his tenure on SUHSD’s school board, he’s now running for Salinas City Council for a similar reason. “What really prompted me to run was trying to envision a future for my city,” Rocha says. “Much of the economic disparity [in Salinas] is borne by young people. We are graduating college, looking for jobs and hopefully looking to buy homes. But that window of opportunity is closing.”
Other young candidates are newcomers. Alexis Garcia-Arrazola, a 23-year-old seeking a seat on Seaside City Council, is running for office for the first time. Though it’s his first time as a candidate, he has experience working in government doing outreach for Central Coast Community Energy.
Garcia-Arrazola’s priorities – like climate action – may be a generational priority as young voters face the consequences of years of inaction. He points to things like better roads, electric vehicle charging stations and wider sidewalks – all local-level projects that create jobs, make neighborhoods safer and facilitate environmentally friendly transportation. The only Latino on the ballot in Seaside, he also views himself as a potential coalition-builder and someone who would do outreach to the community. “I alone cannot create change,” he says. “It’s like Congress, you need a majority vote to move anything forward.”
In Monterey, 33-year-old city council candidate Zoë Carter notes her focus on the local: “Municipal issues are very different from federal issues.” On the campaign trail, people tell her they care about housing and a sustainable economy that creates jobs for Monterey residents.
On another level, Carter’s campaign is also about representation. “Not to be blunt, but a city council of all men doesn’t represent who Monterey is,” Carter says. (She is challenging two incumbents, both men on a five-man council.) “Having younger voices and women run says we can hold these positions of power.”
Even for first-time young candidates, they are not new to politics. Garcia was an intern at the Panetta Institute and for U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano in Los Angeles. Carter is a graduate of EMERGE, a kind of Democratic incubator for women who want to run for public office. She also worked in the policy office of Former First Lady Michelle Obama. “I’d definitely say I have the experience,” she says.
Not all young candidates are looking to be the next AOC. Lyle Skeen, 27, ran unopposed for the Monterey County Republican Central Committee in March, and is now seeking a seat on the North Monterey County Unified School District board. As a gay man who supports the Log Cabin Republicans, his love of politics started when he was a teenager and opposed Prop. 8 (which eventually passed), making same-sex marriage illegal.
Back then, he says, he looked up to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It was after moving across the aisle to support Donald Trump that Skeen decided to throw his hat in the ring for a local election, saying he’s inspired by the president’s charisma.
“Young candidates aren’t from the same pool of people,” Skeen says.
Skeen says he wants to prioritize reopening schools, mostly for kids in special education, who he believes benefit more from face-to-face interaction.
“The passion and drive to represent my district is what matters,” he says. “But ultimately, representatives speak for the people who elect them.”