Columbus High grads will help nominate the two top presidential candidates

Recent grads heading to national political conventions

Two 18-year-olds from Columbus will be among the youngest delegates where the nation’s presidential nominees will be decided, one will vote in the Georgia delegation at the Democratic National Convention, and the other will be an alternate (doing
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Two 18-year-olds from Columbus will be among the youngest delegates where the nation’s presidential nominees will be decided, one will vote in the Georgia delegation at the Democratic National Convention, and the other will be an alternate (doing

While many millions of Americans will watch on television what are expected to be historic national political conventions during the next two weeks, two Columbus teenagers will be among the few thousand participants in the final stage that nominates the top candidates competing to become the next president of the United States.

Tanner Goldsmith and David Smith, both 18, were in the same graduation class from Columbus High School this spring. They are political foes, so they vote differently, but they are friends — and they agree on the mission to motivate more young folks to vote at all, as well as participate in politics.

Goldsmith is an alternate delegate who will help represent Georgia in Cleveland Monday-Thursday for the Republican National Convention, where billionaire businessman Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee. Smith is a full delegate who will help represent Georgia in Philadelphia for the July 25-28 Democratic National Convention, where former first lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is poised to become the country’s first female presidential nominee from a major political party.

These teens appreciate this momentous moment.

“I’m definitely excited to go to the convention, as far as going and seeing how all the under-workings go,” said Goldsmith, who as an alternate can participate as much as a full delegate except vote. “But at the same time, it’s a little nerve-wracking, looking at the news, seeing what’s going on with Trump, seeing some of these protests, hearing Fox reporters saying, ‘I wonder what’s going to happen in Cleveland.’”

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Smith said. “It’s certainly nerve-wracking. I feel very responsible. I feel like I’ve got a lot of responsibility on my shoulders that I need to take care of and properly represent my area that I’m from actually. I kind of feel like I’m a member of Congress or something, representing my area. … I just like the fact that two regular old Joes can just go in, who care about the party, and do this.”

I can almost guarantee you this is the first time they came from the same city and the same high school.

David Smith

Delegates must be old enough to vote. Although it’s unclear how many other 18-year-olds will participate at these conventions, Smith surmised, “I can almost guarantee you this is the first time they came from the same city and the same high school.”

‘Watching politics on TV wasn’t enough’

Smith aligned himself with the Republicans until they took over the U.S. House and “the debt ceiling debacle” of 2011-12 made him realize “that these tea partiers had no interest in governing.”

That’s also when he started watching a lot of Bernie Sanders’ TV appearances, even before the U.S. senator from Vermont started his presidential campaign, “and his policies and beliefs made sense,” Smith said.

Smith started participating in politics in 2014, when he volunteered for Jason Carter’s campaign for Georgia governor and Michelle Nunn’s campaign for the U.S. Senate.

“I got into politics because I wanted to make a change and felt like just watching politics on TV wasn’t enough,” he said. “I needed to get out there in the field.”

There, he met Patricia Lassiter, the regional field director for the Georgia Democratic Party, who he said turned his political interest into political activism.

Lassiter is mighty impressed by this precocious delegate.

“Don’t let his lack of years fool you,” she said. “He’s very passionate about what he does and very smart. His arguments are not based just on passion but also on knowledge and making sure the best facts go forward.”

Goldsmith’s motivation to participate in politics also came in 2014. That fall, as a junior in Ken Broda’s Advancement Placement U.S. Government and Politics course at Columbus High, he was required to complete 10 hours of work on a campaign. He volunteered for David Perdue’s U.S. Senate campaign. Drew Robinson, then the campaign’s office manager and now the legal counsel for Perdue’s senate office, and former Muscogee County School Board chairwoman Mary Sue Polleys, who was considered the “office mom” of the campaign, helped encourage him.

Austin Mathis, then a high school senior and now a political science major at Georgia Southern University, asked Goldsmith to join five other students and establish the Muscogee County Teen Republicans.

“From there,” Goldsmith said, “I gained valuable connections and worked for various campaigns. Although I got involved with politics because of a school assignment, I stayed involved because I understood the need for young people to bring a new perspective to the political process. I was worried by the political divisiveness and saw a need for a more cohesive governance.”

Meanwhile, Smith founded the Young Democrats of Columbus High School. He and Goldsmith cooperated on hosting a debate about the proposal to thaw Muscogee County’s property tax freeze, featuring Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and former state Sen. Seth Harp.

Josh McKoon, a state senator from Columbus, motivated Goldsmith’s next step when he heard him speak to teen Republicans at the state capitol in Atlanta.

“From that point, I made it my goal to make it to Cleveland,” he said, “somehow, some way.”

McKoon praised Goldsmith's desire to improve his community and country.

“He’s a bright young man who has a very earnest interest in public policy problems and wants to, at least in some manner, address those problems,” McKoon said. “He’s not looking necessarily to be an elected official, and, frankly, we need a lot more people like Tanner, who will pursue whatever career they want to pursue while still being politically involved.”

Smith and Goldsmith methodically rose through their party’s network, from the local to the state level. Then, on the same day, they clinched spots in their delegations.

He’s not looking necessarily to be an elected official, and, frankly, we need a lot more people like Tanner, who will pursue whatever career they want to pursue while still being politically involved.

State Sen. Josh McKoon

“We were kind of communicating the whole way through, texting each other,” Goldsmith said. “We were excited for each other. Even though we’ve got different ideas, we want each other to do well.”

“And we’re good friends,” Smith added.

Asked how their congenial spirit could be more prevalent in politics, Smith said with a laugh, “Just elect me president. I can fix everything.”

In a serious tone, Smith continued, “I heard some older senators talking about this. I think the reason the Senate has kind of stalled and probably government as a whole is that people don’t make the relationships they used to.”

Goldsmith agrees.

“The way the Republicans and Democrats are going right now, you would think we were trying to get two completely different things accomplished,” Goldsmith said. “But, at the end of the day, it’s all about making America better, and I think the issue we have is we let, I guess, ego and pride to get in the way of saying either all of the answers are Republican or all of the answers are Democrat. It’s almost as if you’ve got a Republican who’s conservative on every issue except for maybe gay marriage or abortion, that one issue, all of a sudden, you’re a Republican in name only or you’re not part of the party. I think when that happens, people are driven left and right rather than the middle, where I think most of the solutions are.”

And the solution to bring more young folks into the political arena is to help them understand what’s at stake, these teens insist.

“The problem is when younger people are underrepresented and don’t have a vote, then at that point, our issues aren’t as important as the people who have full representation at the Capitol,” Goldsmith said, “so I think we want to make a better future for ourselves, and the way to do that is by changing policy and getting involved.”

“I think for young people it’s harder to see how things affect them in certain cases,” Smith said. “Tanner and I have the foresight, the knowledge, and we can say, ‘This issue here is going to affect this and that.’ You ask somebody who’s younger, who’s just getting out in the world, they don’t care.”

Both are going to their conventions somewhat conflicted because the candidates they supported during the primaries won’t be the nominees.

Goldsmith supported Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for the Republican nomination because “he’s a constitutional conservative who isn’t afraid to stand up for his beliefs. I agree with many of his stances on action in the Middle East and the economy.”

Now, he’s faced with a dilemma.

“Ideologically, I’ve come to the point I cannot vote for Hillary Clinton,” Goldsmith said. “So that leaves me Trump, third party or I don’t vote. Well, I’m not going to not vote because that’s one of our precious rights as a democracy. I’m left sitting there thinking if I vote third party, does it really matter? I don’t think we’re going to have any viable third candidate option, so that leaves me begrudgingly to vote for Trump, even though I disagree with much that he says.”

Asked to be more specific, Goldsmith said, “I don’t necessarily think he’s the most honest candidate, but, at the same time, I think he’s more honest than Hillary Clinton. That’s where I make my distinction. Then I look at the Democratic platform. I look at a $15 minimum wage. I look at some of the other economic ideas that I think will hurt small business and hurt the economy as a whole. … As far as who’s going to keep our country safe, which I think Trump almost does it to a fault, to where it leads to bigotry against Muslims, but it’s an issue where I’m just going to have to pick the lesser of two evils, and I think that’s Trump on economics and who’s going to keep the country safer.”

Smith is an avid Sanders backer, and he’s bound to vote for him at the convention as a pledged delegate, but he still will support Clinton in November.

“I have no problem working or voting for Hillary Clinton,” Smith said. “All the people I worked with in Columbus and most of them in Georgia, it was a preference. There was nothing they had against Hillary Clinton; it’s just one over the other. That doesn’t mean they don’t like her. I love Hillary Clinton, and I will fully back her and support her if she is the nominee.”

Smith said he favors Sanders because he likes his plans for universal, single-payer health care, a $15 minimum wage, tuition-free college and the environment.

“If I disagree with Hillary Clinton on anything, it’s not because I think her policies are bad, I just prefer Bernie to her,” Smith said. “I think it’s remarkable that a woman who has been demonized from the very moment she got into public life, in a way that no candidate has ever been, is still able to get up there and fight for what she believes in.”

Political goals

Smith plans to major in political science at Columbus State University. He wants to own a business or law firm, then enter the political arena.

“I think public service is a delight,” he said. “It’s something I enjoy. I like helping people. I definitely want to be a leader in Columbus, the state of Georgia and at the national level to improve the lives of everyday citizens, because those are the people that you should be fighting for and not your donors, and that’s what we see unfortunately way too much in Washington and closer to home, too.”

Smith’s political goal is “to move up the political ladder, to Congress — and president! Who knows?”

Goldsmith plans to major in finance at the University of Georgia. He doesn’t have political aspirations, at least “not right away. But I think David hit the nail right on the head. If you’re going to do political service, anything in politics, first and foremost it has to be about the people, and I think we’ve got entirely too many people who run for themselves. … I’m not going to rule it out later in life, but I think, as for right now, I want to be a finance major, do something in business and maybe down the road do something like that.”

Smith likes to remind Goldsmith he helped put him on the road to Cleveland. Smith conducted a voter registration drive in the Columbus High cafeteria the last day before winter break. Goldsmith was among the 69 students Smith registered to vote that day, making him eligible to be part of the Georgia delegation at the Republican National Convention.

Asked why he would help a political foe to register to vote, Smith explained, “I believe that everyone should vote, regardless what you believe or how it lines up with my beliefs.”

National conventions

▪ The Republican National Convention kicks off Monday in Cleveland. The event will formally select Donald Trump as the nominee for president for the Republican Party. He will become the first non-politician to receive the nomination since former President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952.

▪ The Democratic National Convention is July 25-28 in Philadelphia. Hillary Clinton will formally be selected as the party’s nominee. She will become the country’s first female presidential nominee from a major political party.