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From College Sophomore To Freshman Legislator

From College Sophomore To Freshman LegislatorWhilemost of his classmates were spending their weekends studying andsleeping in, Tufts sophomore D. Scott Merrick was waging a successfulcampaign for a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.Medford/Somerville,Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.15.04] Ahigh school visit to Washington D.C. and time spent volunteeringfor Howard Dean’s presidential campaign inspired 19-year-oldD. Scott Merrick on his way to winning office this fall as a staterepresentative in his native New Hampshire.

“Within the pastyear, politics has seemed to me like it’s ready for changeand it needs something to spark itself, especially in the NorthCountry [of New Hampshire],” the representative-elect said,describing the Coos Country 2nd district that he and three otherlegislators represent.

His path to the StateHouse in Concord began before he had even filled out his collegeapplications.

When his mother contractedmultiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood and immune system, then-highschool sophomore Merrick traveled to Washington D.C. with herto lobby for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

The experience wastransformative.

“Going down theremade me realize that even on an issue like cancer research, Ican make a difference and my voice could be heard,” Merrickrecalled. “The experience sparked my political bug.”

From there, the Lancaster,N.H., native became involved with the Coos County Democratic Committee,attending meetings and learning about the issues.

Merrick also citeshis work on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign as a majorinspiration.

He not only volunteeredfor the Dean campaign in New Hampshire by working phone banksand canvassing door-to-door, but he also founded Tufts Studentsfor Dean and brought Dean’s national campaign co-chairmanSteve Grossman to speak at the University.

“He was so passionateabout wanting to go and change things and bring the DemocraticParty back to what it was, and seeing that really inspired meto get involved,” Merrick explained.

This past spring, theCoos County Democratic Committee asked Merrick if he wanted torun for a seat on the state house of representatives.

“I was a littleskeptical,” he admits. “I wasn’t sure if I actuallywanted to do this because of my age, because of school. But Iknew that at some point in my life I really wanted to run forpublic office.”

Upon careful consideration,he threw his hat in the ring in June. “The opportunity seemedto be right for me and I couldn’t pass it up,” Merrickexplained.

After a summer spentwalking in town parades and attending county fairs, he began campaigningin earnest after the September 14 state primaries.

Local elections inthe rural areas of New Hampshire are more low-key than they arearound the metropolitan Boston area, so Merrick didn’t haveto spend a lot of time and money printing signs or making phonecalls.

Word-of-mouth provedthe most effective way of for Merrick to spread his message. Hetraveled to the Granite State almost every weekend between theprimary and the general election.

And that meant knockingon a lot of doors.

“I’ve gotpermanent scars on my knuckles,” Merrick joked.

Rather than seeinghis age as a liability, the voters Merrick talked to were supportive.

“When I toldthem I thought my youth would actually be good for the legislature,bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm, they were really receptive,”he recalled. “I was quite amazed at how many people toldme – and used this specific phrase – [we need] ‘youngblood in the legislature.’”

Ofcourse, so much door-knocking and hand-shaking translated to alot of late papers and missed social gatherings. Life as botha candidate and a college student was hectic.

“I had no sociallife,” the sophomore admitted.

But Merrick’sfriends and classmates were ultimately encouraging of his campaign

“A lot of timesthey were like, ‘Gonna go party, wish you could come,’but they were mostly just very supportive,” he said.

Some were even inspiredto get involved in the political process themselves. Kayt Norris,vice president of Tufts Democrats, helped Merrick canvas in NewHampshire one weekend.

“It was reallyjust wonderful to have some help and know that people actuallydo care about what I’m doing,” Merrick said.

As for classwork, the political science major’s professors were kindin offering extensions for late assignments. Balancing a campaignand a course load even helped hone Merrick’s study habits.

“Being so busyhelped me focus on what I needed to get done,” he said.

By Election Day, Merrickwas admittedly very tired, and by the time the news came aftermidnight that he had won the seat, his exhaustion belied his excitement.

“I was very excitedand really happy and extremely tired so I didn’t show asmuch emotion as I was feeling at the time,” he recalled.

This is not the firsttime New Hampshire voters have elected a college-aged legislator:21-year-old John Ward also won election to the State House thisyear. And in 2002, 18-year-old James Wheeler, the son of a formerNew Hampshire state senator, won a State House seat.

For Merrick, this canonly be the beginning of a positive trend in politics.

“People willbe more open to youth involvement and we need to encourage that.”

But in the end, regardlessof his age, it took a lot of elbow grease for Merrick to win.

“Hard work paysoff, without a doubt,” he said, “Especially in smalltowns in my rural district where word of mouth plays a huge role.”

A small town electionmeant a small staff for Merrick – for the most part, justhimself.

“I did mostlyeverything on my own,” Merrick said. “In a small districtI can get away with that.” Laughing, he added, “Iguess it worked.”

For the short-term,Merrick plans to take the spring semester off to concentrate onhis legislative duties and return to Tufts in the fall of 2005.

Eventually, he seeshimself working in Washington, D.C., and possibly attending graduateschool. And though he wants to run for a national office at somepoint, he diplomatically states that his priority is serving hisupcoming term.

When that term begins,Merrick hopes to win a seat on the House Education committee,where he wants to work on reforming a system he feels concentratestoo much on standardized testing and doesn’t give teachersthe leeway to fully educate students.

“I think NewHampshire right now is facing an education crisis for its publicschools and we need to fix that,” he said.

But despite his hardwork and strong convictions, with his swearing-in less than amonth away, Merrick can’t help but feel a bit nervous.

“The whole environmentis kind of scary,” he admitted. “But I also look atit as, my voice is going to be able to represent 12,000 peopleand I’m going to be able to speak up for people and be heard.I can’t wait to go in there and see what I can accomplish.”

The entire situationstill seems a bit surreal to Merrick.

“What do yousay when you basically are living a dream at the age of 19?”he said. “It’s tough to react to that.”

 

 

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