Youth in revolt 

Forget the Tea Party. Montana's GOP is struggling to appease a more vital demographic: young conservatives.

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"Right now, the Young Republicans and College Republicans are teaming up to do a phone bank, and we're getting some help from the central committee," Dogiakos says. "But that was definitely instigated from our group, and that was a big thing. There wasn't going to be any type of office or county-wide coordination for phone banking at all."

But as Sullivan and Borrelli are so quick to point out, the Young Republicans' involvement in the GOP has so far been limited primarily to grunt work. They have no voice in the greater workings of the party, and their ability to influence the GOP's message is still a ways off.

"The people who speak at platform committees on the Republican side are the candidates, the chairs and the committee people," Dogiakos says. "So as a Young Republican organization, we don't have any say in it."

For the Young Republicans, 2010 is a proving ground. Dogiakos and Harrison already possess solid reputations with local GOP leaders based on their youth recruitment efforts, their volunteer contributions—and Dogiakos' candidacy—in the 2008 election cycle, and their past involvement with the College Republicans. But many of the newer faces in the group have yet to make a lasting impression. By making a difference during the current election cycle, Dogiakos says, they'll go a long way in gaining more respect with members of the old guard.

"It's a matter of putting in your time, taking your lumps at sort of the lower levels," Dogiakos says. "Even people who are 45, if they've never been involved with the central committee, they have to start at the bottom peg...I think YRs will help people understand how all the cogs fit into place within the Republican organization, especially in Missoula. And in the next five to 10 years, the people who we're meeting with on Mondays at Rowdy's will be the people leading the Republican Party."

click to enlarge House District 98 candidate Mike Sopuch, 32, recognizes the need for the Republican Party to become more inclusive of a younger generation of conservatives. The future of the party lies with those under 40, he says, and the GOP’s “stale, antiseptic” ways only serve to steer prospective new members away. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • House District 98 candidate Mike Sopuch, 32, recognizes the need for the Republican Party to become more inclusive of a younger generation of conservatives. The future of the party lies with those under 40, he says, and the GOP’s “stale, antiseptic” ways only serve to steer prospective new members away.

The Young Republicans aren't the only conservatives seeking to wrest control from the entrenched GOP and steer the party's future in a different direction. The so-called "patriots" behind the ever-growing Tea Party movement have moved from the fringe to center stage in 2010, fronting candidates against Republican incumbents in nationwide primaries and publicly deriding GOP leaders for not being conservative enough. They've generated infighting within the Republican Party and clouded political debates over lower taxes and smaller government with calls for abolishing the Federal Reserve and radically increasing states' rights.

The Tea Party continues to jockey for greater influence over the Republican Party, placing the GOP in the middle of a tug-of-war between the far-right agenda of grassroots patriots and the socially liberal leanings of young conservatives. The future face of the Republican Party will depend heavily on which side inherits leadership.

Working toward those leadership goals is pivotal in the Young Republicans' push to create a more inclusive GOP. Party delegates will gather in 2012 for the next state platform convention, and for Dogiakos, having as many Young Republicans as possible at that table will ensure their ability to impress the values of a younger generation on the party's guiding document. He doesn't anticipate a "180-degree flip" in the GOP's values, but it's a rare opportunity he doesn't intend to pass up.

"I'm going to encourage everyone in the Young Republicans to be part of the platform committee in 2012, for sure," Dogiakos says. "Personally, there's a number of different [changes] I'd love to see. I'm starting to get involved with abolishing the death penalty. It has nothing to do with the fact that I'm young...I'm just strongly against it."

On a personal level, Dogiakos also hopes to take action on the issue of capping interest rates on so-called payday loans. He takes a "step aside from the party stance" concerning I-164, which seeks to cap interest rates at 36 percent. Whereas traditional Republicans maintain government regulation of payday loans contradicts the concept of a free market, Dogiakos says hitting people with high interest rates does nothing to keep them economically active. He leans more in favor of regulation on this particular issue, and says it's yet another example of a discussion older Republicans would just rather not have with him.

Young Republican Ethan Heverly, 28, has yet to see the GOP leadership in Montana tackle the issue of federalization of the student loan process in the party platform. Officially condemning that federal oversight would go a long way in making the Republican Party more attractive to those under 30.

"I owe the government several thousands of dollars now that I've graduated college and my student loans have been basically taken over by the federal government," says Heverly, who worked as the Montana student coordinator for Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. "I think that's something the Republican Party—the party of conservatism, the party of fiscal responsibility, low taxes, less spending—should probably take up as their mantra. I feel like that's a good opportunity to win over some college-aged students there."

Greil's argument against the GOP's plank on homosexuality is a particular sore spot for young conservatives even outside the group, and touches on a broader issue they'd like to see addressed. John Quandt, 30, a 2009 Republican City Council candidate for Ward 3 in Missoula, says many young conservatives aren't against civil unions for same-sex couples. The question of marriage is moot, he argues, because states shouldn't seek to regulate a religious institution.

"There are certain things within the party that I don't really see as something I find attractive," Quandt says. "Those are very few, but those things I don't like let me get involved and see what I can do to change it."

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