While some GW students will spend this summer interning for a politician, sophomore James Scott Gilbreath will be campaigning to become one.
Gilbreath, a Democrat, is running for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives. He believes that Republican partisanship in Texas has grown out of control, leading many politicians to abandon their constituents.
“I’m sick of the Republican attitude that they don’t have to be held accountable for their actions,” said Gilbreath, who will be running against Jim Pitts, a six-term representative who has never been challenged in an election.
Gilbreath, who is running unopposed on the Democratic ticket, will need to convince many residents of his suburban Dallas district – which votes 70 percent Republican – to unseat a popular incumbent and elect a 20-year-old college student.
“For over a decade Republicans have yet to be opposed, so I stood up,” he said. “Republicans don’t own Texas; Texans own Texas.”
While Gilbreath’s detractors will likely point to his age as a sign of inexperience, voters will ultimately look at his political adroitness when deciding whether to vote for him, said Bruce Buchanan, a professor of government at the University of Texas in Austin.
“I think it depends on the capability rather than the age,” Buchanan wrote in an e-mail last week. “State reps. are important figures with real power over citizens’ well-being.”
John Higley, chair of the University’s government department, said Gilbreath would not be the first twenty-something to be elected to the House.
“Members of the Texas House of Representatives who are in the 20s, even their early 20s, are not unknown in Texas,” he said. “Over the years there have been many such representatives.”
But getting elected to the House will not be easy, said Higley, who noted that Republicans have dominated Texas politics in recent years.
“The position of representative is important in the state’s politics, and contests to be elected to the House are often hotly waged,” he said.
“With a state population in excess of 20 million, election to the Texas Legislature is not a small thing,” he added.
Gilbreath said he is optimistic about his campaign despite steep odds.
“It’s about fighting for what you believe in, not winning or losing; fighting for the underdog,” he said. “I was raised to know why you believe what you do, and then fight like hell for it.
“I believe Texans can do better than what Jim Pitts and Republicans have given us, and I’m ready to fight for better representation,” he added.
Several calls placed to Pitts’ Austin and Waxahachie offices went unanswered.
Gilbreath said he would most likely transfer to the University of Texas if he were elected to the House, which is in session from January to May. The election is scheduled to take place in November.
“Every legislator has an occupation. Mine is student,” Gilbreath said.
One of seven children, Gilbreath said he has been interested in politics since an early age.
“My dad always encouraged me to pursue my interests, so we used to always talk about politics,” he said. “When I was 13, a friend of the family took me to see President Clinton speak in Dallas. When I saw what a difference one person can make, I fell in love with it all.”
Since coming to GW, Gilbreath has been an active member of the College Democrats and has interned for the National Democratic Committee. He serves as co-director for the GW Students for Clark and is also a Hatchet columnist.
At present, Gilbreath’s campaign is mostly Web-based. He is supported by his local Democratic Party and, of course, his parents.
“I’ll have 18-hour work days over the summer,” he said. “I’ve received support from Ellis and Hill counties, the state party and county party. Republicans and Democrats are both excited, as well as independents.
“It doesn’t matter how you do it,” Gilbreath said of campaigning. “It’s election year, and it’s time to jump on board and change things for the better.”