Despite contentiousness, young people continue to engage in politics

As local, state government becomes more accessible, opportunities abound

By Alexandra Kautzman


BISMARCK – University of North Dakota law student Katie Winbauer says she has always been interested in politics, and the tumult of recent political activity on the national stage hasn’t changed that. 

“Probably since middle school I’ve been the one to push my friends and family to be more interested,” Winbauer said. “I kind of took it upon myself to be that encouragement because I do think that we can be a lot more involved.”

Winbauer interns with the Legislative Council during the current legislative session. She attends hearings and prepares bill amendments for the House Judiciary and House Political Subdivisions committees. 

She said while there is a national trend of young people becoming more politically engaged, there is still a gap in North Dakota.

“I’m trying to get my peers more involved because a lot of times we think we are too young, but the truth is that the best decisions are made when there’s every single voice,” Winbauer said. “Right now, I’m not seeing a ton of young people. There are some, but I think there’s definitely room for more to get involved.”

With 26 years as an elected state government official under his belt, House Speaker Kim Koppelman said it is refreshing to see that North Dakotans can still be respectful when it comes to politics. While he is concerned about the tenor of today’s politics with the recent events in Washington, D.C., Koppelman said he is proud of his state’s civility and hopes to see young people continue the practice.

“I encourage young people to get involved and to practice these honorable principles because only if good people get involved and stay involved, will respect and civility continue,” Koppelman said.

District 42 Rep. Claire Cory from Grand Forks was a sophomore at UND when she volunteered on Kevin Cramer’s campaign for U.S. Senate. A year later, she became the vice-chair of her district, which includes the campus area. 

The political science and public administration major said while being one of the youngest on the floor takes getting used to, she is not afraid to ask questions and learn from her older colleagues.

“Being a college student and representative is a great time,” Cory said. “I learn so much at my representative position that I can bring prior knowledge back to the classroom. It helps me excel in my classes.”

Cory said she took the opportunity to run for her current position so that she could make a difference for the district that she grew up in. She said young people also have the ability to make a positive change.

 “In my opinion, it is important for young people to get involved,” Cory said. “Young people are the future of our country and they need to know they can make a difference.”

Winbauer said the first step in getting involved is to simply pay attention. She said it is especially easy with this legislative session since all of the hearings and meetings are live-streamed.

The next step, she said, is to get involved with an organization or a cause that you care about. She said doing anything from taking a leadership position to testifying on a bill can make a huge impact.

“I think it’s important primarily because this is where we live and so we need to get involved as young as we can so that we are a part of decisions that will affect us,” Winbauer said. “Once you get out of high school, you are an adult contributing to North Dakota. So being engaged is important.”