Utah group Emerging Leaders Initiative helps millennials and Gen-Z get involved in politics

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Cate Klundt, Vice Chair of the Emerging Leadership Board talks about fundraising with young Utahns attending a training by Emerging Leaders Initiative of Utah (ELI Utah) in Sandy on Saturday, July 20, 2019. ELI provides a place for young professionals to find leadership skills to develop and feel empowered to serve the community.

Sandy • When Utah’s Emerging Leaders Initiative was founded nearly three years ago, organizers had one goal — get more people 18 to 35 involved in the political process.

Since then the non-partisan networking group has held meetings and events almost monthly to reach millennials and members of Generation Z.

The group, funded through a state grant and corporate sponsors, has registered young voters; connected then with nonprofit boards and commissions that need their views; and — like it did Saturday — held trainings to teach them how to lead a campaign or run for office.

"They’re a voice that is underrepresented, and often they’re the group affected most by some of the decisions that are made,” explained 28-year-old Cate Klundt, vice chairwoman of Emerging Leaders Initiative’s governing board. ”For example, we talk a lot about affordable housing. Right now it’s millennials that can’t afford homes. It’s not the generation before them. They’re the ones that are priced out of the market because of zoning decisions or funding decisions that are made by people twice their age.”

Decisions on health care, student loans, the environment and even the economy, she said, also could benefit from having younger perspectives.

More than a dozen people attended Saturday’s candidate and campaign training, held at the Utah Realtors Association headquarters, where Klundt works as the government affairs director.

One attendee had filed as a city council candidate and wanted guidance; another was running someone’s political campaign; and another just wanted to know what it takes to get more involved in his local community

During the three-hour session, the group got pointers on everything they need to know to run a successful campaign from filing deadlines and fundraiser to finance disclosure. To test what they had learned, they also broke into small groups and developed a strategy for a fictional candidate.

“It can get really complicated really fast,” Klundt said. “So we want people to feel like after they have finished this class, they can run a successful, legal, campaign.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Manuel Delgado, center, listens during the campaign and candidate training sponsored by the Emerging Leaders Initiative of Utah on Saturday, July 20, 2019.

Manuel Delgado, who is running for a seat on North Salt Lake City Council, appreciated the advice.

“This is my first election, and I don’t have a lot of background and experience," the 30-year-old said. “So getting this insight is helpful.”

When Delgado tells people he is running for office, his age inevitably comes up, he said. “But we don’t have just older people in the city, so I feel like I can represent a certain demographic and provide fresh ideas.”

Kelsey Price, chairwoman of the Emerging Leaders Initiative, said Utah could use more voices at all levels of government from water boards and planning commissions to the Utah State Legislature, which in the most recent election boosted its 35-and-under ranks.

Currently, there are four members of the Utah Legislature that fit the demographic, Price said. They include Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake; Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, D-Salt Lake; Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise; and Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy.

In 2012, when Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Salem, was elected, he was the only member under 35, Price said. Now he is 37.

Silvia Catten was elected to the Millcreek City Council when she was 29 and believes younger voices — no matter which side of the aisle they may fall — bring a different viewpoint than previous generations.

“In a lot of ways, they are more open to change and diversity than our parents and grandparents were,” said Catten, now 33 and a member of the EMI Board. “Our generation is open to leading in a different way. I think we are more inclusive and believe there is always room at the table for everyone.”

Catten understands the hesitancy young voters may have about public service. She worked for six years on the Millcreek community council, yet she still felt unqualified to run. “I wondered, do I have enough experience than someone twice my age?”

Through the initiative, she hopes to ease that kind of intimidation for others, she said. “People don’t realize they have a lot to offer.”

Jessica Foard, who has worked as an advocate for suicide prevention for several years ran for the District 2 senate seat — that Kitchen ultimately won — last year. She lost in the primary, but that hasn’t deterred the 34-year-old’s enthusiasm.

She attended Saturday’s training anticipating that she’ll try again for public office.

“I’m just taking in as much information as possible,” she said. “What’s the worst that can happen? I’ll lose again, but I’ll still be involved and be an advocate.”