18-year-old elected mayor in Oregon as young people continue to enter politics

By Emma Campbell

Elm Staff Writer

On Nov. 6, 18-year-old Ben Simons was elected mayor of Yoncalla, a small town in Oregon with just over 1,000 residents. Simons only received 148 votes, but this was enough for him to beat out his two opponents with 41.2 percent of the vote, as reported by Willamette Week.

Since his election, Simons has been the butt of multiple Parks and Recreation jokes (even sharing a first name with one of the sitcom characters who was an elected mayor at 18), but he’s made it clear that he won’t be blowing the town’s budget on winter sports complexes. Instead, he wants to focus on improving his community while also inspiring more young people to get involved in politics.

“For the people that really know me in town, my age wasn’t really anything, because they know I have the skills and qualifications to hold this office. I don’t like my age to be a qualifying or disqualifying factor,” said Simons to Willamette Week.

Mayor-elect Simons’ new position may have raised some eyebrows a decade or two ago, but in recent years we’ve seen that young people are capable of just as much as fully grown adults. This year, a group of high school students organized and led March For Our Lives, a national stand against gun violence. In 2015, 21 youth plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the government, claiming that it was allowing activities that violated the earth’s climate (see Juliana vs. United States). The 2018 midterms had the largest voter turnout in a century, partly due to to the recent mobilization of American youths.

The young people of America seem to be taking political stances all over the country. However, are these stances merely ego trips, as many paranoid politicians have suggested, or are they genuine efforts to better the country?

When teenage survivors of the Parkland, Fla. shooting became the voices of tragedy, multiple adults — who should have known better — accused them of wanting attention. Although critics of Simons haven’t been particularly vocal, there is no doubt that they exist. And they are surely reluctant to be led by a young man who is not legally permitted to drink alcohol.

It is highly improbable that Simons decided to run for office on a teenage whim. Even the least educated 18-year-olds understand the workload that goes into being the mayor of a small town. Simons isn’t governing his town as an extracurricular activity — in fact, he is refraining from going to college until he completes his two-year mayoral term. Simons was already accepted at the University of Oregon, where he plans to major in business. Until then, he will work on improving the quality of life for his fellow Yoncalla townspeople.

There is nothing to dissuade young people from becoming politically involved except for the stigma that they are incapable of leading. If the success of Simons teaches the adolescents of America anything, it should incline more of them to become involved in the future of their country.

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