Politics & Government

Under 25 and looking to serve: Why young people run for office in Centre County

Local teen has always liked politics, now he’s on the ballot for school board

Max Kroell talks about running for Bellefonte School Board and how grateful he is for all the support.
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Max Kroell talks about running for Bellefonte School Board and how grateful he is for all the support.

Max Kroell could run for Bellefonte area school board in the May primary, but he wasn’t able to cast a vote for himself.

Why? The 17-year-old Bellefonte Area High School senior hadn’t yet reached voting age.

Kroell, who turns 18 this month (and can vote in November), was one of four candidates under 25 who ran for local office in Centre County during the May 21 primary election. He and Tom Dougherty III, 20, were the only ones to garner enough votes to get on the ballot in November, but the four young candidates on the primary ballot could indicate a larger trend of young people entering politics.

“I want to bring a voice to the younger generation, to the students and parents in the district who see problems that aren’t getting solved and I just want to be a representative of those students and educators,” Kroell said.

Kroell and Dougherty were joined by two Penn State students: Tanner Day, 21, who ran for Centre County commissioner and Jackson Fitzgerald, 21, who ran for State College Borough Council.

Dougherty, a Penn State sophomore who served as the student representative for the University Park Undergraduate Association on Borough Council, said seeing the effect local government has on the community inspired him to run.

During his time as student representative, he worked with Councilman Dan Murphy to implement rainbow crosswalks in State College for Pride Month. “It was the perfect example of how welcoming we can be if we just take the step forward,” he said of the experience.

Dougherty ran on the Democratic ticket in the primary, but won enough write-in votes to run on the Republican ballot come November, according to unofficial election results.

Day, a Penn State junior, also serves as a Marion Township supervisor. He said he knew he wanted to run for office since high school.

“While attending Bellefonte Area High School, it became clear to me what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he wrote in his campaign announcement. “That decision (many young people wouldn’t consider) came easily to me. I knew I wanted to help other people, and serve my community and county to the best of my ability.”

Other young candidates said they felt a responsibility to serve their communities, or a wish to voice the needs of younger people to government representatives.

“I always knew I wanted to do more public service,” said Dougherty, who studies international relations at Penn State, and has an interest in the real-world effects of housing policies and public safety laws.

Kroell, who will start at Penn State in the fall, said a government class at BAHS inspired him to pay closer attention to current events and how the government affects the daily lives of people in his community. He also serves as senior class president and communicates important school news to his peers.

“I really think with the political climate today and everything that’s going on in our government, a lot of people are getting involved (in politics) ... because they’re realizing that this affects our day to day life,” he said.

Day acknowledged that he stood out from his opponents in the county commissioner race based on his age, but chose to focus on bringing “a set of fresh values and ideals” to the board.

Dougherty and Kroell expressed a desire to bring government into a more modern manner of communications — after all, “Generation Z,” those born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s according to demographers, spend a lot of time online using various social networks and streaming services. In fact, according to a Pew Research survey, 45% of teens say they’re online “almost constantly.”

“Especially in the social media age, there’s no reason we can’t connect to every single person in this community,” Dougherty said.

Most importantly, young candidates wanted to see more young people in politics, especially local politics.

Younger generations are understanding “that they are the controllers of their future,” Kroell said, and should run for office to see themselves represented in decision-making positions.

“This government style, the way our country is run, it’s what you want it to be and voting for people that you want to see make a difference ... is very important,” he said.

Update: This story has been corrected to show that Tom Dougherty III won enough write-in votes to run on the Republican ballot for State College Borough Council. A previous version of this story stated he did not win enough votes to run in November.

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