Referendum L seeks to open statehouse to young politicians

CU Regent candidate, Joe Neguse, supports a ballot initiative that would lower the age requirement for statehouse candidates. (Photo/Joe for

CU Regent candidate, Joe Neguse, supports a ballot initiative that would lower the age requirement for statehouse candidates. (Photo/Joe for

Supporters of one of this fall’s ballot questions, Referendum L, say its approval by voters would allow and encourage one of the more overlooked group of voters, young Coloradans, to become more involved in the political process.

Referendum L, which was placed on the ballot by the state Legislature earlier this year, asks voters to lower the age required to serve in the Colorado statehouse from 25 to 21.

“Hopefully, if it passes, it will give a plethora of young people across the state a chance to get more involved,” said Joe Neguse, 24, who is running for a seat on the University of Colorado Board of Regents.

Neguse said his youthful looks are apparent, but they haven’t been a disadvantage on the campaign trail.

“I think people are appreciative of it, because they like the notion of bringing some energy and some youth to the Board of Regents in this case,” said Neguse, a third-year law student at CU, who supports Referendum L.

Most states require residents to be 18 or 21 to serve in the legislature, but Colorado, Utah and Arizona set the bar at 25, according to the Council of State Governments‘ Book of the States 2008.

“Young people are often left out of the political process … and that’s what this referendum aims to do: allow younger people to be engaged earlier,” said Ryan Bielhle, one of three co-presidents of the University of Colorado student body.

Younger residents would bring a unique view point and more recent educational experiences to the statehouse, said Bielhle, 21, who helped lobby to get Referendum L through the 2008 Legislature and onto this year’s ballot.

“Those who are 21, 22, 23 are definitely going to be more connected to higher education,” said Bielhle. Those young 20-somethings also have “different perspectives on health care or on transportation services,” he added. “Our needs as youth are different than those who are 50 or 60.”

But even if voters approve Referendum L, which would take effect next year, they won’t have a chance to weigh in on whether they think candidates younger than 25 are ready for the statehouse until 2010, the next time state representatives’ seats will be up for grabs.

“We deserve a space at the table with the older generation,” Bielhle said.

Or at least, according to Bielhle and other Referendum L supporters, on the ballot.

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J.C. O'Connell

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