Student proposes creation of youth council to advise governor


James Wellemeyer

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
In a state with about 2.3 million residents 19 years old and younger, James Wellemeyer wants to give young people a voice in their government.
Wellemeyer, a student at an area private high school, is looking to have Chris Christie’s successor sign an executive order creating a 24-member gubernatorial youth council to advise the governor on policy and potentially work with lawmakers on legislation.
“I kind of got the idea last year because I saw that, on the news, often people were saying young people weren’t involved in politics, young people didn’t care about politics,” he said in a recent interview. “But what I saw around me was very different.”
Wellemeyer, of Princeton, is a rising senior at the Lawrenceville School, the exclusive boarding and day school. At Lawrenceville, he is president of the young Democrats club and involved in debate and model UN clubs.
“Lots of my friends were involved (in politics),” he said. “They were very informed, so as a result, I thought a reason for that might be that they’ve been given the opportunity and I’ve been given the opportunity to get involved, whereas some other people, maybe in other parts of New Jersey, haven’t. And as a result, they aren’t informed, they aren’t involved.”
His plan is to have 24 high school students — two from each congressional district in the state, ages 15 to 18 — sit on the council. They would be chosen in Internet elections and volunteer their time.
“But we’re really looking … for people to be representing their districts,” he said.
He said the council would be a “platform for young people all around New Jersey to get involved in politics and to express their political opinions (and) political ideas.”
“The idea is giving high school students who can’t really run for office yet a voice in government,” he said.
Wellemeyer pointed to education funding, climate change and lowering the voting age to 16 as issues he cares about.
“And I think that the incoming governor will hopefully be pushing policies that are good for the environment,” he said. “But I think that the youth council will be a really good way of emphasizing that if the governor is not doing that.”
He pushed back against the stereotype that young people are not engaged. He suggests that schools be “more proactive” in encouraging students to vote .
“I wouldn’t say that youth are apathetic, actually,” he said. “I think that lots of youth are really informed about politics.”
His introduction to politics came in following the 2012 presidential election; that interest intensified last year, when he kept up with it all the time through his phone.
Turning 18 this year, he will become a voter. At his school, the young Democrats and young Republicans clubs collaborate on a voter registration drive annually to get faculty and students registered, he said.
So far, he has about 60 volunteers, part of a team of that includes high school students of different grades involved in helping his effort. Like-minded groups and politicians like independent gubernatorial candidate Gina Genovese and Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert have supported the advisory council proposal.
“I’m really hopeful,” he said, “that it’ll be established.”