Missouri delegate, 17, will be among youngest for Democrats
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — At age 17, Rachel Gonzalez isn't quite old enough yet to participate in elections. Yet Gonzalez will be voting as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention this week to nominate Hillary Clinton for president.
Gonzalez, who will be a senior this year at William Chrisman High School in Independence, will be one of the youngest delegates attending the convention that begins Monday in Philadelphia. It's a distinction she earned after spending countless hours campaigning for Clinton in Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.
Missouri will have 84 Democratic delegates, 49 of whom are expected to vote for former Secretary of State Clinton and 35 for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The roster includes a mix of elected officials such as Sen. Claire McCaskill and Gov. Jay Nixon, longtime party activists and first-time attendees such as Gonzalez.
Missouri Democratic Party guidelines say delegates must be at least 18 years old and have voted in the March 15 Democratic presidential primary. Gonzalez didn't do so, because she doesn't turn the legal voting age until Oct. 16.
But Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Roy Temple said she was allowed to run as a delegate anyway, because she will be 18 in time for the November general election. Gonzalez was elected at a Democratic caucus in April as one of four Clinton delegates from Missouri's 5th Congressional District. Temple said he believes Gonzalez is the youngest person ever elected as a Missouri Democratic delegate.
Gonzalez already has more political experience than many adults several times her age.
She said she became interested in politics at age 9 when her parents took her to a 2008 event in which former President Bill Clinton was campaigning on behalf of his wife's first presidential bid.
"I didn't really understand anything that he was talking about, but I wanted to learn about it," Gonzalez said.
Four years later, as President Barack Obama was seeking a second term, she began collecting political shirts with slogans such as "Barack the vote." By age 16, she started volunteering for Clinton's presidential campaign. Then she really got into it this year.
Gonzalez said she spent seven straight weekends in Iowa — quickly finishing her homework after school let out on Friday, then traveling north with other volunteers to knock on doors in freezing temperatures and make phone calls for Clinton in advance of the state's Feb. 1 caucuses. She then shifted her attention to Kansas, volunteering in the evenings after school by making phone calls encouraging people to vote for Clinton in their March 5 caucuses.
She has done the same thing in Missouri while also seeking to sign up additional Clinton volunteers at community festivals and events.
When it comes to politics, "she lives and breathes it — it's a big part of her life," said fellow Democratic delegate Sarah Starnes, with whom Gonzalez has volunteered.
All the while, Gonzalez said she's stayed involved in typical high school activities such student council, the history and Spanish clubs and Scholar Bowl competitions. As Missourichairwoman of the High School Democrats of America, Gonzalez has come to realize that not all of her peers share her political passion.
"I've learned it's really hard to get young people involved," she said.
But she's already mapped out her own political involvement well into the future. Gonzalez said she plans to attend Truman State University in Kirksville to get dual degrees in political science and criminal justice, then go to law school before running for a Missouri House district in Independence in 2024.
DAVID A. LIEB, Associated Press
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The Gayly - 7/23/2016 @ 9:05 a.m. CDT.