Louisiana Democrat could be youngest in Congress

Posted 4:30pm December 15

by Marcus Mrowka
U-WIRE Washington Bureau Chief

Most young people interested in entering politics see it as a process. They might work for a Member or Senator, run for local or state office, and work years building up contacts so that one day they might make the big jump to national politics. Kyle Johnston wants to change that.

Johnston, at 24, is the youngest to file for candidacy in the 2004 Congressional election. If elected he would revolutionize the way young people think about public office.

“Why isn’t [running for Congress] a real job opportunity?” Johnston asks. “You have to know it’s an option and I think I can inspire a lot by winning.”

Most weekends Johnston makes the five-hour Greyhound ride to Baton Rouge, La., from the campus of Rice University to meet with political figures, gain contacts, and begin his campaign to knock an 18-year incumbent out of office. He relies on the bus instead of driving because he suffers from narcolepsy, a condition that makes him fall asleep without warning.

Johnston first realized his passion for public office as a senior at Louisiana State University. He often says he was inspired by a political science class taught by LSU Professor Wayne Parent.

“I was then, and am now, always pleased to see him because he was and is so damned positive and upbeat about most things,” Parent said in an interview with the Jones Journal. “I liked the fact that he was intent on being more than just a talker — he clearly planned to act on his ideas.”

Running as a Democrat, Johnston says he hasn’t always aligned himself with the party. He says he thought he was a Republican for the longest time, but it wasn’t until he really looked at his values that he switched.

“My dad’s a big Republican and I assumed I was a Republican forever,” he said. “I realized I was just a cheerleader.”

Johnston sees himself as being liberal on social issues, but more conservative on economic matters.

“At some point business doesn’t take care of social needs,” he said.

Johnston and friend Rhett Morris co-founded Youth-Elect, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that seeks to help youth that want to run for public office. The idea came out of a book the two coauthored titled “The Y-Factor: A New Generation Enters Politics.” Those born between 1978 and 1995 are generally considered to be Generation Y and are strongly thought to be politically apathetic.

Johnston says Youth-Elect is a “great organization” and said that he finds it inspiring to see young people in office.

Helping to boost his appearance on the national scene, there has been talk that Johnston and his campaign will work with a production company to televise Johnston and the campaign next summer. The show would also focus on a team of interns that would be sought throughout the country.

While Johnston’s enthusiasm is high, he faces a heavy task in unseating an 18-year incumbent in Louisiana’s sixth district. Rep. Richard Baker received 84 percent of the vote in the 2002 election and has over $190,000 on hand presently. Johnston has yet to publicly file his financial resources.

But with some political pundits talking about a rise in anti-incumbent sentiment across the nation and a new Democratic Governor in Louisiana, Johnston might be able to pull it off.

“Anytime you have a Democrat in the Governor’s office it can only help,” he said.

Johnston says he is doing this to win, and he is confident he can unseat Baker.

“This is my time to pursue what I’m passionate about,” said Johnston.

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