June 16, 2008

An 18-Year-Old Joins GOP State Committee

By Kari Andren, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Jun. 16--HARRISBURG -- While his friends were studying for exams and gearing up for the prom, Scott Thomas was out on the campaign trail -- and it paid off.

The 18-year-old Pottsville native defied the odds and beat a party-endorsed candidate to win a place on the Republican State Committee and go into party record books as one of its youngest members.

In April, Schuylkill County GOP voters elected Thomas, then a senior at Pottsville Area High School, one of four delegates to the party's 364-member state committee.

He threw his victory party at a local Dunkin' Donuts.

"I was ecstatic," Thomas said. "I worked hard, so I kind of thought I might win."

Thomas may look his age standing next to former Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson -- as he did in a photo snapped at his first committee meeting earlier this month -- but don't be fooled. He set up a campaign Web site (www.thomas08.com), issues press releases, and posts grip-and-grin pictures with GOP leaders just like any other politician.

Thomas was assigned to the high-profile voter registration committee, whose mission is to lure back Republican voters who switched parties in order to vote in the Democratic primary.

"I hope that I can make the Republican Party state committee adapt a message for younger people within Pennsylvania," Thomas said. Young people in the state are more likely to register as Democrats, he said, adding: "I don't think that's because the Republican Party doesn't represent their values -- but they have a hard time getting their message across."

Despite being barely old enough to vote, Thomas is no stranger to politics, having formed the Pottsville Teenage Republicans in 2005, which grew the next year into a countywide group.

Thomas is among a growing number of young elected officials across Pennsylvania.

In the last six years the towns of Mercer and Mount Carbon elected teen mayors. And Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, 28, a Democrat, is the youngest mayor of any major U.S. city.

"I'm glad to see young people get interested in our political and policy-making process," said Matthew Brouillette, a former high school civics teacher and now head of the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative Harrisburg think tank.

"Youth brings the idealism that often gets lost amongst those old timers that tend to say, 'This is how we've always done it,' " Brouillette said.

Thomas will attend Lehigh Carbon Community College in the fall and plans to major in elementary education. But he says his committee position isn't the end of his political career.

"I would definitely consider running for something else in the future, but I don't know what yet," Thomas said.

"I think people are ready for a change," he said. "And people are embracing the younger generation for that change."

Contact staff writer Kari Andren at 717-236-1819 or [email protected]


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