Off the mountain and toward the office: App State students vie for political futures

Adam Zebzda, Reporter

With the 2020 elections stealing the spotlight, some students have their eyes on a future consisting of political campaigns, ballot boxes and agendas.

App State is preparing students Dalton George, River Collins and Lee Franklin for future bids and leadership roles. 

George, canvassing director for the Watauga County Democratic Party and junior economics major, said he has his eyes on a “big, small” city an hour and a half east of Boone: Winston-Salem. 

Mickey Hutchings
Dalton George pictured with Emily Hogan, a sophomore political science major and Willow Larson, a junior elementary education major while campaigning in fall 2018.

George worked with Forsyth County’s Democratic Party and Roy Cooper’s gubernatorial campaign in high school, gaining experience in political dialogue.

George said “attacks on institutions” that assisted him growing up, such as food stamps and Medicaid, helped shape his identity as a Democrat.

“I’ve always been a Democrat ever since I got my political hold,” George said. “There never seemed like there was space for me in the Republican Party.”

Becoming Winston-Salem’s mayor is George’s ultimate goal. Not wanting to become a “career politician,” George said, “any job of public service is a distinguished one.”

“You aren’t a politician, you’re a public servant,” George said. “I want to be a happy warrior for Winston-Salem.” 

If elected mayor, he plans to tackle wealth inequality, gentrification and the lack of economic investment in East Winston, a historically impoverished area of Winston-Salem.

“I’ve seen what it’s like for people in Winston-Salem to work their tails off and not get anywhere,” George said. “I’d like to create a city and community that appreciates that work and that gives people the ability to move forward. I know what it’s like.”

Collins, president of App State’s College Republicans and junior political science major, said he has his eyes on state offices, aiming for governor if not further.

Identifying education, health care and prison reform as his priorities, Collins sees education as his primary focus. The idea th “youth is all we have to guide the future” is the reason Collins said he prioritizes education. He said schools in the state have been underfunded and teachers underpaid.

Collins said he believes the current health care system doesn’t work for Americans, and he supports government subsidized health care to “drive down the prices of even your basic visit to the checkup clinic.”

With prison reform, Collins said the government “should focus on deterring criminals as opposed to punishing them after the fact,” while investing more in anti-drug and drug rehabilitation efforts instead of criminalizing addiction. 

Collins self-identifies with the GOP and said, “I am a Republican. Straight to the marrow of my bones, I am a Republican.” 

Collins said he believes that any American can achieve anything through hard work without “an all-powerful government looming over their heads.” He said people should not grow dependent on the government, but the government should help its citizens.

 “My goal is to appeal to the average American and let them know that their interests are my interests,” Collins said.

Franklin, campaign manager for state house Rep. Ray Russell and senior political science major, said he is interested in running for office after graduation, but isn’t worried about which one because “every level of government plays a huge role in shaping people’s lives.”

Lee Franklin is planning to make politics a part of his future beyond graduation. Here he is pictured in fall 2018.

Franklin said he became interested in politics when he was young, witnessing his father run for County Commissioner of Orange County in 2004 and 2006. 

“That experience of watching, listening and talking to him taught me the importance of politics,” Franklin said.

Franklin plans to stay in Boone after graduation and help Russell be re-elected to North Carolina’s House of Representatives.  

Outside of supporting other Democrats running for office, Franklin helped register people to vote from 2017 to 2019 and has registered over 8,000 people, a majority of which were students. 

Whichever office Franklin pursues, he said his priorities are representation and fairness in government.

“Regardless of the job, the people need to have a say in the decisions an official makes and an elected official should strive to promote a government that treats all people fairly,” Franklin said. 

Franklin said he believes he can identify with a wide range of voters through knowing first-hand hardship and struggle. 

His family coped with the loss of a father and husband when Franklin was 14, with an outpouring of assistance from his community.

“The reality is that everyone experiences hardship in life, often worse than my own, and being able to understand the struggle people go through on a daily basis is crucial for an elected official to make the right decision,” Franklin said.