Climate Hawkeye: a tale of a new generation of voters

about 4 years ago

Kelsi Wolever, a 20-year old junior at Iowa State double majoring in political science and environmental science, grew up in Iowa. Every four years, candidates from both political parties flock to her state to woo potential voters in local diners, hold town hall style meetings and of course, visit the fabled Iowa State Fair.

But this first-time presidential election voter didn't go to the fair for the rides or to rendezvous with friends. She went with the intention of asking the Republican candidates a set of questions on the issues of renewable energy, sustainability, and natural resources.

"I agree with a lot of Republican views," Wolever told me over the phone after my Twitter stalking resulted in her agreeing to talk. "But I feel very strongly about the environment. And it's hard to find a Republican who shares my views."

Maybe Wolever's interest in politics can be attributed to the culture she grew up in. After all, Iowans understand that their votes count. Iowa's first-in-the-nation primary caucus presents its residents with a formidable task: determine who is most qualified to be on the ballot representing the major political parties. While the candidate who shows best in the Hawkeye State is not always propelled to the top of the ticket (remember, Rick Santorum won the prize in 2012 and Mike Huckabee stole the honors in 2008) the bragging rights that come with winning Iowa are not to be underestimated.

Neither is Kelsi Wolever.

She may be influenced by the hyper-political environment she lives in, or she might just be representative of her generation. If, as I suspect, it's the latter, the presidential candidates ought to take note.

Wolever combed the Iowa State Fair and eventually talked to six of the Republican candidates. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal gave her the most time. He didn't make her feel rushed or unimportant, instead spending 15 minutes sharing his views on federal regulations versus free marking solutions to climate change. Maybe his generosity can be attributed to his low ranking – he's averaging 13th place out of 17 candidates. Or perhaps he gets the importance of millenials, who in 2016 will comprise nearly 40 percent of the voting pool.

"Some candidates do a good job of appealing to younger generations," Wolever noted. "Governors Bush and Jindal, they took time with me. I don't agree with them point for point, but I respect the time they gave me. Fiorina was the hardest to talk to, and Huckabee lacked passion." Wolever also reached Walker, but raucous crowds did not allow for a meaningful exchange with him. She didn't catch Rubio at the fair, though she did encounter him on a different occasion.

Why was she so dogged in her efforts to talk to each candidate?

"People my age care about the environment," Wolever explained. "All my friends, we care about these issues passionately, regardless of our party affiliation. It's not the case that conservatives don't care about the environment. We aren't always looking for the most liberal solution. We're looking for something in the middle."

Wolever hopes to reach the candidates she hasn't yet interviewed and also intends to monitor all the candidates to see if their positions on these issues shift. She has time on her side. With the February 1st caucus date still five months out, Iowa will remain a popular hub for presidential wannabes for the time being.

"Everyone in Iowa has an advantage," she said. "I wish more people got the opportunity to meet the candidates in person."