Many teenagers have been inspired by the quick success that Derrick Seaver found after graduating from high school two years ago, but any new grads wishing to follow his path should be warned: To get your first job in his field, you have to shake 50,000 hands.
Seaver says that’s just one of the things that helped him get elected to the Ohio House of Representatives just months out of Minster High School, sparking a youth-targeting strategy among Ohio Democrats. Since Seaver’s victory in 2000, two more teenagers have run as Democrats for the Statehouse.
Now serving his second term, the 21-year-old grapples with his state’s $4 billion deficit while his friends grapple with college textbooks and kegs.
Born and raised in Minster (population: 2,650), which has historically voted conservative, Seaver first showed his political ambition in middle school, when he wrote to the state Democratic Party asking how he could get involved in local politics.
In high school, he eschewed the mundane world of running for, say, class president, instead working his way up to positions of responsibility with Young Politicians of America and the Ohio Young Democrats – the latter offering especially good opportunities for a new, young face, because Republicans dominated local electoral politics. Seaver founded the Auglaize County chapter of the Young Democrats and served as regional director.
“I got a lot of guidance from local officials while I was growing up,” he says. Those officials encouraged him to run for the 78th House district seat against Republican David Shiffer.
That’s what he did, the same year he graduated from high school. The election gave Seaver a wonderful case-in-point for his many speeches to high schoolers about the importance of voting: He won by 246 votes.
Once elected, Seaver says he was never intimidated by his Statehouse surroundings, but concedes that there was a steep learning curve when he first arrived in Columbus. “I remember my first committee I sat on was the Criminal Justice Committee,” he says. “I was sitting between two guys who both had Harvard Law degrees. That made me question what I knew, coming from high school.”
His party has noted his success and appears ready to keep trying young people, at least as experiments in districts that are historically conservative anyway. (The other two teens to run recently, Ken Bailey, 17, and Andrew Mackey, 18, both lost.) Last year the state Democratic leader even asked Seaver to run for state auditor.
“Derrick is probably one of the best speakers I’ve ever heard,” says the new Democratic Party chairman, Denny White. “I was impressed with his intelligence. He is a big part of the future of this party.”
That future, in White’s view, has Democrats setting aside divisive issues (read: guns and abortion) and focusing on opposing the state GOP economic philosophy. Seaver is the prototype in this sense. He’s liberal on state spending, but supports carry-and-conceal weapons laws and opposes abortion.
His closest peer on the job (in terms of age), Republican State Rep. Chuck Blasdel, is 29.
As for Seaver’s future, he’d seem to be ahead of the curve, considering that he’s been voting on drinking laws that generally prohibited him from actually drinking. He is engaged to his high-school sweetheart and plans to complete his education degree at Wright State University sometime around 2008, which is when he would complete his service in the House if he continues to be re-elected until he’s stopped by the state’s term limits.
He’d like to teach, but is also drawn by any other opportunities that might open in state politics. “I will probably stay as long as the people would have me,” he says like a seasoned pro.
Did going into politics so early rob him of some youthful fun? “I have never regretted” running for office, Seaver says. “All of my friends are gone most of the year anyway, and we still get together when they’re home for holidays.”
As for youth who want to somehow influence the world around them but won’t win any elections, Seaver’s advice is simple: “Do not be afraid of the system. It is only a barrier if you think it is.”
Contact: Seaver (614) 466-1507, firstname.lastname@example.org.