How a 22-Year-Old Mayoral Candidate Wants to Make Millennials Vote

Win or lose, Gus Pedrotty’s campaign for mayor of Albuquerque is a refreshing approach in talking to young voters.

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Sep 28 2017, 2:30pm

Images via Wikimedia Commons and Facebook.

Millennials are awful at voting. The age group is now the largest living generation, but has the lowest voter turnout compared to other ages. We still have a hard time overcoming stereotypes as lazy or disinterested, and more than a few pundits put blame on young voters for the unexpected turn out of the 2016 general election.

From lame voting rights laws to the regressive effect of big money in politics, there are a number of structural factors responsible for the poor state of youth voter participation, and Lil Jon ain't the answer. But it's also a relevant fact that most candidates for office are older. The average age of Congress is 57 (US Senate is 61) and the average age of state level lawmakers is 56. The politician of choice for the millennial generation is 76 year-old Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, but fact is, most lawmakers are often not all that relatable to young people. And most elected officials, advocacy groups and civic organizations just don't do that good of a job when it comes to communicating with the youth of today, partly because well, they aren't youth.

So, in comes August "Gus" Pedrotty . Just barely over two decades old and fresh out of the University of New Mexico, the Albuquerque native is running for the open mayor's seat in his hometown. Pedrotty has held his own in debates against candidates much older, and with more relevant governing experience. But to overcome the life gap he is using social media and online videos to effectively communicate his campaign message and developing a two-way connection with voters.

Pedrotty has done is homework on the dynamics of the city he wants to lead and is running an issues-based campaign that recognizes the platforms and language that resonate with young people. He may be a longshot, but there's no denying that Pedrotty is running an innovative effort bringing politics and policy to young voters, and not the other way around.

VICE Impact caught up with Pedrotty by phone earlier this month as he was in between campaign events to talk about youth in politics, and how he has been using limited resources to get his message out there.

VICE Impact: Why was it so important for you to run for the top spot in the city of Albuquerque's leadership?

Gus Pedrotty: I looked at as many city government positions as I could, elected offices as I could, to figure out where my ideas could go to ensure their efficacy, could ensure that I was a part of manifesting a future for the city that I love and care about. And the ideas went to the mayor's office.

It wasn't to be a figurehead, it was because this is where the ideas could actually change the cityscape I grew up in. And, of course everyone will quickly dismiss a young candidacy. They're from a different perspective, and they represent different needs. And that's unbelievably important in government, and why so many more people actually need to start running.


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On the campaign trail, what issues have really been resonating with people?

I'm always quick to point something out, which at first people thought was cute and didn't make sense, but now people kind of hold onto more genuinely, is that a year ago we were still experiencing a crime wave. But what happened a year ago was also the release of Pokemon Go. All of the sudden, everyone was outside. Everyone was going to places, meeting people on the internet, showing up in public parks, showing up in historic neighborhoods, and people were safer!

There's something about the togetherness that technology can bring, and the fact that as a city we haven't harnessed it to show ourselves off and to meet each other and to engage each other in a productive manner, I think is very telling.

This campaign is also very invested in green energy. It's been one of the biggest dishonesties I've heard from government. Green energy is even cheaper than conventional sources, and we still haven't seen a full-on commitment to it. If it's business savvy, if it's better for our environment, more ethical, if it stabilizes our communities and gives us more autonomy and agency, then why are we not making that choice?

If you can't create ideas that are interrelated, that help many facets of a situation at once, it's probably not the right idea. There's no siloed off discussion anymore. So, there are a lot of ways that we come to these solutions in the campaign, and there are a lot of new ideas from trying to address more than just one issue at the same time that catch people's attention.

It's an industry with more jobs with a brighter future. And so the way that we're suggesting Albuquerque take the upfront cost of solar, and diversify renewable infrastructure, is through legalizing marijuana as a municipality first. It's a way for us to stabilize our communities by opening up two very large job markets side by side.

Do you think most people realize the relationship between the decisions that get made in City Hall, or even in their State House, and the relevance to their daily lives?

I do think that there's something more intimate and visible about local government. There is a brick and mortar facet to it that really doesn't exist at the Federal level, and not so much the State level.

There's an immediate sect of decisions in a city that's far more intimate than other spheres of government. And hopefully more adequately represented. However, I think cities maybe should tackle some of the bigger, headier issues, too, that have large and substantial impacts culturally.

How would you describe your style of communicating with voters?

When you run as a young person, you carry a tremendous burden of proof. You have to show that you know every issue better than anyone else and you can come up and talk about anything, understanding its context and the future for it. So one way to do it is to present ideas that got you passionate about it in their full depth, and put them out into digestible bits like videos.

We're going to be releasing a video on biotech, which is a kind of heady and inaccessible idea even though we use it all the time. Albuquerque right now is producing a new vaccine against HPV and a new vaccine against high cholesterol, both of which, if we commercialize here, could give us a new foothold in the entire industry globally. It would renovate our economic landscape, boom our startup culture, and bolster our education system. It's unbelievable. And unless the electorate knows what's going on in their communities, unless the electorate takes ownership in everything the city is doing, we're never going to be able to push for our brightest future.

For me, it's saying, "Let's talk about the hard things. Let's try and figure out," and to say it in a way that everyone can get behind and understand and gets excited for. Because all of these things affect us together.

What was the "aha" moment for you that that you decided you had to do this?

About three years ago there was this event in our city -- the death of a homeless man by our police force in the foothills. I went to all the organizing events I could. I was at City Hall, protests, rallies where I walked in front of a militarized police line. I saw a whole different side of things that I didn't think would ever come home like that, and it made me ask a big question: What's a citizen's responsibility to their city, and what's a city's responsibility to their citizenry?

I watched a city that seemed deaf to its own context, and wasn't able to deal with the social issues.

What do you say to other young people out there who are curious about running for office but they might be afraid or not know anything about the process?

Don't compromise. Everyone's gonna tell you where to go and what to do, and it's not worth it. That's why it's important to run as yourself and to run where you feel you need to go. Don't wait for all the resources, don't wait for the timing to be right -- run because the ideas are better. Run because our generation needs to elect ideas and not identities. If we don't choose to live out loud, we are only going to be part of the problem moving forward for the next half century.

This interview was edited for brevity and clarity

VICE Impact is committed to getting more people registered leading up to the 2018 midterm elections. We are working with Democracy Works' TurboVote challenge, a leading digital voter registration initiative, and grassroots organizations across the country to increase voter registration and turnout in the United States.