By Mark Carlisle
Jacob Sumner is now working on his first local campaign, but he’s worked on four campaigns overall.
And he isn’t old enough to vote himself.
The Mountain Ridge High School senior, who turns 18 in May, is joining the next generation of political activists. In addition to his internship on the campaign to elect Kathy Hoffman for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mr. Sumner was also one of two students to organize the walkout for gun control at Mountain Ridge High School March 14.
In the past, he’s volunteered for the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign for president, the 2017 Jon Ossoff campaign to represent Georgia’s sixth district in Congress and the 2017 Ralph Northam campaign for governor of Virginia.
Mr. Sumner said that, in addition to gun control and the environment, education is one of the issues most important to him.
“My mom’s a teacher, I’m a student, my brother is still in eighth grade and that’s just something that, without a good educational base, it’s hard to really compete globally and that’s something you need to be able to do,” he said.
Currently, Mr. Sumner’s main role on the Hoffman campaign is organizing a forum for students like him to meet the candidate and ask questions. The forum will be held 4:30-7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 21 at a Glendale residence, 12470 N. 57th Ave. After the student forum, Mr. Sumner said he will likely organize a similar forum for teachers to meet the candidate.
When Mr. Sumner joined the campaign in February, it was as an unpaid intern, but he’s since transitioned to a paid intern as Ms. Hoffman looks for him to take more of a leadership role in the campaign.
One other high school intern works on the campaign. Ms. Hoffman, a Democratic candidate hoping to unseat incumbent Republican Diane Douglas, said she and her young supporters can learn from each other.
“It’s a two-way street,” she said. “I want to educate them. I want to educate them about the political process and empower them to feel involved and give them a voice in the political process. And I think if we have more young people talking about it, we’re going to see more voter registration of 18-, 19-year-olds, and I think it benefits the campaign to have their perspective and their messaging because we are trying to reach that entire spectrum of age groups… so I think by making their voice heard, that we can improve voter turnout of young people.”
In the fall, Mr. Sumner plans on attending either Arizona State University in Tempe or Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, both of which he’s been accepted to, to major in Computer Science, Software Engineering. If he chooses ASU, he’s also thinking of taking the school’s Public Service and Public Policy minor.
With his degree, Mr. Sumner hopes to work for defense contractors, developing the next generation of fighter jets. He said the experience “could be useful going into public service.”
While Mr. Sumner has thought about a career in politics, it’s a long way off for him.
“Not in the foreseeable future will that happen though,” he said.
He’s thought about running for office himself but has also considered a more behind-the-scenes political role.
“I’d kind of like to represent the people and help them that way, but I could also see running campaigns in some way as being a fulfilling way to do that also,” he said.
Democrats like Mr. Sumner and Ms. Hoffman hope Arizona can be part of an envisioned “blue wave” this fall, largely as a backlash against the current president.
Mr. Sumner said Donald Trump was a big reason he became involved in politics at such a young age.
“(Ms. Clinton’s) opponent was just a man that I couldn’t really agree with,” he said. “He would brag about sexual assault and he’s been accused of it, and I didn’t think that’s what we should have in a president, so I started volunteering there.”
The young political activist was sought out for his position on the Hoffman campaign. He’d posted on the online forum “Run For Something” that he was looking to work on a progressive campaign in Arizona, and Ms. Hoffman reached out to him.
Mr. Sumner said he likes that Ms. Hoffman is a teacher herself, went to the University of Arizona, works as a speech therapist in Peoria, is bilingual and has worked with bilingual students, supports technical career education programs, which he’s taken and wants to “keep teachers in the classroom” by increasing teacher pay.
Mr. Sumner and Ms. Hoffman are both confident they can win the race for superintendent, which Ms. Hoffman called a “flippable seat.” Though the seat has not been held by a Democrat since 1995, both pointed out that Ms. Douglas won by just 1 percent in the last election in 2014.
Currently, Mr. Sumner is only working on the campaign on weekends when he isn’t busy with school or the Mountain Ridge baseball team. His role will be expanded to 20 hours per month in the summer, Ms. Hoffman said. In addition to the campaign and baseball, Mr. Sumner is a part of the National Honors Society, which includes volunteering, and is the president of his school’s mentor club, where upperclassmen help freshmen become ingrained in campus.
Mr. Sumner follows politics more closely than most of his classmates, he said, and has for a while. He has a subscription to the New York Times that he reads almost daily. He only knows one classmate, fellow walk-out organizer Rylee Tinnel, who is as engaged as he is. Most of his friends, he said, take a more passive approach to politics, but he hopes to get most of them to vote this fall.
“I hope that Jacob can inspire other students to get involved,” Ms. Hoffman said.
Mr. Sumner’s mother teaches at Glendale Sierra Verde Stem Academy, 7241 W. Rose Garden Lane. Mr. Sumner, a self-proclaimed Democrat, says his parents have similar views to his, but he’s probably more far-left than they are. His parents encourage him in his endeavors, but he’s the only one in the family to do things like volunteer for campaigns.
On his blog, jacobrsumner.weebly.com, Mr. Sumner endorsed Hiral Tiperneni in both the Democratic primary and the general election for Congressional District 8 where he lives. The special election, on April 24, will be the last election he cannot vote in before he turns 18 in May.
For more information on the April 21 student forum, visit electkathyhoffman.com/student_forum.
Gun control in schools
Mr. Sumner, who said gun control is a key issue for him, helped organize a school walkout for gun control March 14 to honor the 17 killed in the shooting one month prior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“Personally, I want expanded background checks, mental health checks before you’re able to buy a gun, I’d like to see a 10-day waiting period, or a mandatory waiting period of some sort so that they have the time to run through background checks,” Mr. Sumner said after the on-campus protest. He also wants states and law enforcement agencies to use the background check system more effectively, “so that we can stop people who have committed crimes from buying guns.”
Though the demonstration included a plea to lawmakers for stricter gun control, it was equally about mourning their fellow students who were murdered across the country.
“Even though they go to school 3,000 miles away, that could very well have happened here. Gun violence is an issue that happens around the country. It’s not really restricted to schools,” he said, mentioning other mass shootings.
He said the response this time was different because young people are getting involved.
“I think it was really important for the younger generation of voters, the next generation of voters to speak up and organize this because we’ve seen a failure to act from our current elected officials. After Sandy Hook, nothing was done and that was 5- and 6-year-olds. After the Route 91 Harvest Festival, 50-some people died, still nothing happened. After the Pulse nightclub shooting, there was a filibuster in the Senate and a mass sit-in in the House, but they still did nothing. So, we need to show that we are united and we support this.”
Ms. Hoffman also believes more needs to be done about gun violence in schools. She attended the “March for Our Lives” demonstration for gun control in Phoenix, Saturday March 24. Mr. Sumner wanted to be at the protest, which saw about 15,000 people turn out, but he had a baseball game.
“First, I disagree with the idea of having more guns on campus or arming teachers with guns. I strongly, strongly oppose that. That actually terrifies me as a teacher,” Ms. Hoffman said. “Second, what I do think we need to do and it relates to teacher pay and hiring more teachers. We improve teacher pay, have smaller classroom sizes but then can also hire more support staff. So, when we need to be hiring more school counselors, social workers, behavior specialists. Just making sure that all students are fully supported in the schools I think will make a big difference.”
She also suggested looking into things like meditation and yoga rather than punitive measures like detention as consequences.
“I think that helps kids to learn self-regulation of their anger,” she said.
Ms. Hoffman said decreased recess time has led to less time for children to work on social skills, which she would try to restore by adding recess time and/or having social skills curriculum.
Glendale recently announced one measure to combat gun violence in schools: placing a full-time school resource officer at all nine Glendale public high schools. Ms. Hoffman said she fears more police on campus could lead to students being treated differently.
“My concern with more police is that we still are facing discrimination of students of color and sometimes students with disabilities as well. So, I think that I’d rather put more focus on supporting the teachers and having smaller classrooms—the other things I already mentioned of smaller classroom sizes and (more) support staff. I think I would prefer to see that rather than more money toward a police presence. Also, we have students who are fearful of police, we have families who may have an uncertain status as far as their immigration status goes. So, I think school should be a safe and welcoming place for every child and that’s what I think we should be focused on.”
Ms. Hoffman has also participated in the #RedforEd demonstrations lobbying for more teacher pay at the Arizona state capitol in Phoenix each Wednesday.
She said teacher pay is important because the state is facing a teacher shortage and smaller class sizes leads to more one-on-one attention for students.