June 29, 2012 at 7:05 AM
A high school student climbs the local political rungs
Daniel Warwick is pure politics and persuasion, and he has the necessary skill: he has a handshake to remember.
The squeeze of his hand is fine, but it’s the character of his stare and the calmness of his brow that seal the deal. It’s a handshake moment that makes you wonder if you met his expectations, and recount how many times you pumped to make sure you at least are on his level.
For him, politics and persuasion are fun, challenging, rewarding and the best way to spend his high school years. Warwick is 18 years old, you see, and has already participated in more public service than most of us will in a lifetime.
He’s a suburban kid who attends Interlake High School in Bellevue. It’s hard to imagine him doing anything bad in his community, but for many it’s harder to imagine him doing all the good that he has tried to do. That is the hurdle he seeks to overcome. Warwick is climbing the mountain of local politics that is dominated by an older generation.
I saw him in action at the 48th Legislative District Democrats meeting, a group that he leads as the elected chair. It was a big night for the district: candidate endorsements were to be decided. Warwick wore a mismatched suit coat and pants and what looked like his dad’s first tie.
He was sweating, and his voice cracked on the more difficult names, but he kept the eager candidates settled and civil, holding the meeting to a strict time schedule. One of those candidates was Greg Nickels. That name might ring a bell … he’s been around in Seattle. It’ll come to you.
Nickels stood near Warwick, waiting for his turn. The former Seattle mayor–that would be Nickels–had a full beard, and Warwick’s bare chin and cheeks were showing his age. He had youth in his eyes, but with matching height and suit coats, he and Nickels looked like old college buddies.
“We don’t want be here ‘til midnight,” he said to the crowd of two-dozen chattering 48th residents, most at least a couple decades ahead of him. “At least I don’t want to be here ‘til midnight; I have a curfew,” he added with a smile. Everyone laughed.
Warwick grew up surrounded by positive influence. He came by his civic passion early with a subscription to the New York Times at age of 10, gifted to him by his father. At 14, he celebrated the Fourth of July by registering voters for the Barack Obama presidential campaign. He skipped high school elections—too political, he said—and got involved with the 48th Democrats after a substitute teacher saw the Obama pin he was wearing and suggested he come to a meeting.
View The 48th Legislative District in a larger map
Warwick is quick to admit, and be grateful for, all the help that has brought him this far. His participation with local politics on committees, at consulting firms, and on campaigns makes him seem unstoppable. “People have been telling me yes you can, instead of no you can’t,” he said. “There was nobody that said, ‘No Daniel, go away.’”
Suzan DelBene, a Democratic candidate for Congress in the 1st congressional district, was at meeting that night, seeking an endorsement from Warwick and the rest of the 48th Dems. She was waiting outside the room during deliberation.
Warwick volunteered on her 2010 campaign for the 8th congressional district when he was 16. DelBene said his age never really came into play in the work that he did. Any disadvantages–no car, no after parties at bars, he couldn’t even vote–were far outweighed by his tech-savvy knowledge and a general dedication to and understanding of the political system. His age shouldn’t be what makes Warwick stand out, she said.
Warwick put it this way: “We’re not as dumb as we look, as young people. We might not always be the most experienced people, but we are eager, we’re passionate…give us a chance.”
As much as Warwick is a positive model for youth engagement, he also reveals why most fall short: political participation has to be a career. Warwick spends more time at his political consulting internship (15 hours a week) and as the District Chair (up to 15 hours a week) than he does at school. Nonetheless he has achieved a 3.6 school GPA–though he defended it as if a 3.6 is a bad thing–even though political involvement is a full-time commitment.
Still, he’s quick to defend the system that got him there. The entry points into politics are there, he says, you just have to take advantage of the opportunities and the people that want you to participate. Warwick has a canned response for his apathetic peers that tend to define the demographic.
“Get involved. I don’t care what it is,” he said. “It could be a badminton team. Do something with your life that’s not just a computer game.”
He too, dabbles at the arcade, movies, school activities–the typical normal teenager stuff. But he just graduated from high school. His acceptance to George Washington University will change the definition of normal come fall, across the country in Washington DC.
Back in Bellevue, I was nicely escorted out of the 48th’s district meeting. Despite my invitation from Warwick, a woman who appeared to be the district matriarch informed me that no members of the media were allowed. I appealed to Warwick, but he didn’t intervene. I can’t blame him; I wouldn’t stand up to my grandmother either.
Earlier, I asked him what happens if he gets burnt out. What happens if he gets to college and changes his mind, like myself, and millions before me have?
“I know what I like now, and obviously we’re all changing people, and however I change, that’s good with me,” he said.
Sounds like he’s ready to run for office.