Both parties' benches are thin as leaders struggle to cultivate talent, aides say

01/04/2011 07:29 PM

Kentucky’s Republicans and Democrats are struggling to develop networks of younger candidates, campaign strategists and government aides partially because many among the current group of leaders aren’t eager to share power, two young politicos said.

Republican aide Les Fugate, left, and Democratic aide Colmon Elridge, right.

Colmon Elridge, the executive vice president of the Young Democrats of America who works as executive assistant to Gov. Steve Beshear, and Les Fugate, a Republican and deputy assistant secretary of state, offered their take on the challenges of developing the next batch of political talent.

“There is this need for the generation that’s in power right now to hold on to the power and a fear almost, that if you take young people under your wing and you train them, then all of a sudden they’re going to run for your position or they’re going to take that power away,” Elridge said. “The problem with that is that you do end up with the situation that there’s a thin bench.”

The challenge for those who are in politics and government in the up-and-coming generation is to energize their peers, he said.

“We just don’t have as engaged students. We don’t see as many college Republicans and college Democrats,” Fugate said.

There are some young lawmakers who broke through in last fall’s election.

Elridge, a Democrat, pointed to new Republican state Senator Jared Carpenter, for instance, who is 33. Senate leaders on Tuesday placed Carpenter as chairman of the Senate’s budget subcommittee for education.

And Kentuckians elected their first three legislators who were born in the 1980s this fall: Republican Rep. Sara Beth Gregory of Monticello, who is 29; Rep. Michael Meredith, who is 25; and Rep. Ryan Quarles of Georgetown, who is 27.

Fugate also said the negatives of politics — the tough campaigns and harsh ads — is more of a turn-off for the younger generation.

“They don’t want to be a part of something that has that connotation,” he said. “And they have other outlets.”

Another factor working against Generation Y meshing with politics is how used to instant gratification many younger people are, Elridge and Fugate said.

Both said some younger political activists — whom Elridge described as coming from the “microwave generation” — approached politics with an expectation that they would immediately get to play major roles. They sometimes feel above the mundane, but necessary, duties of walking door-to-door, making phone calls and stuffing envelops for candidates and instead expected to be making the big decisions, Fugate said.

Fugate worked his way up the ranks working with Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson. Elridge has spent the last decade as a Democratic activist, working on campaigns until he joined the Beshear administration after Beshear was elected in November 2007.

- Ryan Alessi

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