For many college students, the first week of the semester is the most important. But not for CSU student Erica Hixson. She’s playing hookie all week.
Instead of collecting syllabuses, making a good first impression or organizing binder tabs, she’ll be cavorting with some of the most influential politicians of the day.
Monday the sophomore business major had breakfast with Colorado Superdelegate Federico Peña and Congressman Ed Perlmutter. Last night she had a front row seat to see Hillary Clinton address a packed Pepsi Center. Tonight, it’ll be vice presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Hixson will be one of 70 delegates representing Colorado at this year’s Democratic National Convention, supporting Barack Obama, the charismatic senator from Illinois who might be the man most responsible for the rash of young truants this week.
In this political season, the “main thing” Hixson hopes to do in her role as a delegate is to influence others to become involved, something she said is sorely lacking in her group of friends and in her entire generation.
“I just wish that that people, especially college kids, would care about politics,” Hixson said. “The things that are going on now and the things that we’re voting on now end up affecting everyone’s life, especially ours.”
Though the young delegate seems excited to be in the thick of a history-making presidential nomination, she can’t help but be a bit anxious.
“Right now, I’m kind of worried about protesters,” Hixson said. “We have private buses that take us to the Pepsi Center every day, and we’re basically escorted around by police . I’m glad they’re there, but the fact that they have to be is a little nerve-wracking.”
Then there’s the socializing.
Delegates are often invited to a number of activities outside of the basic voting duties of the average citizen; on Sunday, Hixson joined other Colorado delegates for brunch at the Governor’s Mansion.
As a college student, Hixson said she has had some trouble in staying up-to-date on the happenings of the politico realm. There have been instances, she said, where reporters will put her on the spot, asking for her thoughts on matters she knows little about.
“It’s hard to know about every single issue that’s going on when you’re also trying to manage being a college student and working,” Hixson said. “I’m going to be mingling with people that are out of my league, basically. They’re all older, more experienced.”
Getting to this point can be traced back to family gatherings where her political interest was first stirred by her aunt, Jillane Hixson, the vice chairman of Prowers County Democrats and the woman whom she credits as the most significant political influence in her life.
“I would just be talking about it around the dinner table and Erica really picked up on it,” Jillane said. “I’m so proud of her and just so happy that she’s had this opportunity . I know someday she’ll be telling her grandchildren about it.”
Hixson’s story began in her hometown of Thornton, Colo., where she attended her first caucus in February.
“You’re kind of put into little groups based on your location, and then they send a few delegates from the whole precinct to go to (the county convention),” Hixson said.
Hixson was elected by the members of her group to attend the Adams County Democratic Convention.
At the event, which she attended in March, a speech from Colorado Democratic Party chair Pat Waak served as inspiration for Hixson to continue her convention experience. Hixson applied for state delegation and was selected by county officials to attend the Colorado Democratic State Convention. She said she believes party officials sought out variety in the selection process, which could be why she, one of the few college-aged individuals in attendance, was picked.
This time around, Hixson stepped into the halls of the Colorado Springs World Arena in May with a single goal: securing a spot as a national delegate. But having had a week between the convention and finals week, Hixson said she had little time to prepare her campaign.
While party heads delivered speeches, Hixson cruised through the throngs with Mardi Gras beads – the letters of her name printed on individual beads – and flyers stamped with her portrait.
But earning the votes of fellow delegates wasn’t easy for Hixson.
“A lot of people were worried that I was going to flip-flop and end up going for Hillary,” Hixson said. “I had to explain to them my support . it was almost like a politician, where you have talk with people, you have to make them like you.”
But success didn’t elude Hixson, who saw her name among the list of elected national delegates in The Rocky Mountain News the following day.
Hixson mostly credits her young age in propelling her through the process.
“People were just really excited to see youth involvement,” Hixson said. “Everyone was so excited that I took the time to try to be there and really wanted to go.”
The 19-year-old might not be the youngest delegate – there is 17-year-old David Pederson from Minnesota – but she comes from a growing crowd of youth representation at the DNC
This year, 16 percent of voting delegates will be under the age of 36, compared to the 9 percent reported in 2000. Several pundits, and Hixson, credit the youth opposition of Republican legislation, the Iraq War, reform and years of control of the executive and legislative branches.
But Hixson said she hates being labeled a liberal: “Once you label yourself as very liberal, people are very biased; people are not willing to listen to you.”
Staff writer Erik Myers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.