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Young Republican Delegates Discuss RNC Convention

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's move now to the presidential race. Both major parties have wrapped up their nominating conventions, and whatever happens in November, one thing is certain. The next president is going to be a man in his 70s. But as millennials and the generations that follow become a bigger part of the country's voting population, we've been keeping tabs on what younger voters have on their minds.

Last week, we heard from three young delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Now we turn to three young Republicans who are all first-time delegates for President Trump this year. Maria Vasquez is the chairwoman of the Champaign County Young Republicans in Champaign, Ill.

Maria, hello and welcome.

MARIA VASQUEZ: Hi. Happy Saturday. How are you?

MARTIN: Great, thank you. Hayden Padgett is the chairman of the Texas Young Republicans Federation. He joins us from Plano, Texas.

Hayden, thank you so much for joining us as well.

HAYDEN PADGETT: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on.

MARTIN: And Jessi Rapelje is the national committee chairwoman for the Young Republican Federation of Virginia, and she joins us from Chesapeake, Va.

Jessi, hello to you as well.

JESSI RAPELJE: Hi. Great to be with you.

RAPELJE: Thanks.

MARTIN: So I'm just going to start by asking each of you what one or two issues you feel is most urgent for you personally. Like, what's driving your vote? And, Jessi, I'm going to start with you because - I hope you don't mind my mentioning - at 23, you're the youngest. So I wanted to ask, what do you think is top of your mind when you're casting your vote?

RAPELJE: Yeah, of course. Well, I think for everyone right now, there have been a lot of changes due to COVID. And one of the things that I've been really impressed by is President Trump's economic policy so far, building an incredibly strong pre-COVID economy. And the recovery from COVID and during COVID has been much faster than anyone expected. So I'm really happy to continue that with four more years of President Trump.

I also think that criminal justice reform is something that the president has kept top of mind and a high priority, and so that's been really fantastic to watch, especially with everything currently going on in the national conversation.

MARTIN: Do you think that your concerns track with most people your age?

RAPELJE: I would say, you know, a lot of people in the Young Republicans demographic are young professionals, and so many of them are either early in their career or just entering the workforce. And so definitely having a strong economy and the ability to create their own American dream is something that most people in - at least in my age demographic are concerned about and want to see moving forward.

MARTIN: Hayden, you're 28. What about you? Like, what's top of mind for you when you vote and when you're going to vote this year?

PADGETT: Yeah, I couldn't agree more with what Jessi just said. That's exactly what's top of mind for me. That's exactly what's top of mind for my members in the Texas Young Republicans. Economy, No. 1, and criminal justice reform, No. 2. And what that means for us is really looking at the future we have and the prospects we have to, as Jessi said, continue trying to find our own American dream - or, as we say in Texas, our Texas dream.

And then No. 2 is making sure that everybody has the rights that they are entitled to, are able to live in liberty in our country. So those are the things that are most important to us.

MARTIN: And when you say criminal justice reform, what do you mean by that?

PADGETT: Criminal justice reform - really, there's two parts to it. The first one is the way the police are asked to do certain things - what they're asked of, what tasks they're given - and then the regulations and rules around their behavior and their conduct and how we hold them accountable if something goes wrong.

And the second part is the way the actual justice system handles cases - the way they try people, the way they give sentences, the way we rehabilitate or help people get back into society after they have been convicted. That's what criminal justice reform means to me.

MARTIN: Maria, I'm going to mention - I hope you don't mind my mentioning - you're on the upper end of the Young Republican scale, if you don't mind my mentioning that. And you're...

VASQUEZ: No, that's OK (laughter).

MARTIN: OK. We're glad you made it. And you're also a parent, so perhaps your concerns might be a little different, or maybe not. So what's top of mind for you when you go to vote?

VASQUEZ: Oh, well, like the two prior delegate said, that, you know, economy is definitely on the forefront of everybody's mind at this point. For me, yeah, I do have a child, so, you know, education is important.

You know, I really, you know, support President Trump helping the U.S. workers by expanding apprenticeships programs and reforming job training, bringing programs that are bringing educators and businesses together to ensure high-quality classroom instruction and on-job training because a lot of our children are being educated in the classroom on, you know, books and, you know, that type of curriculum.

But we have to get them prepared for when they go out on the job and have this on-job training and apprenticeship available to them so they are ready, you know, for the real world and jobs.

MARTIN: So, Jessi and Hayden, I'm going to go to you on this question because both of you mentioned criminal justice reform as something that's important to you personally but also important to the - to your peers, the people that you represent. We heard the president and many of the other speakers say he is the president of law and order, and he expressed that in that way several times along with others.

At the same time, throughout the summer and even this week, you have many people out demonstrating, saying they think something needs to change with the way that law enforcement is being done in this country. So I just wanted to ask each of you - Jessi, I'll start with you - how did you feel about the way the law and order message was delivered at the convention?

RAPELJE: Yeah, so I think that there is a bit of a narrative that you can't be in favor of criminal justice reform and law and order. And I think that's really a false dichotomy. It's not an either-or scenario - it's a both-and. So, for instance, there have been a lot of very fantastic peaceful protests really addressing issues of disparity in criminal justice reform and especially in enforcement in this country.

But we've also seen some violence and some real destruction that has come out of the other side of these protests - people who are perhaps bad actors taking on the cloak of the issue. And so I think that it is completely reasonable to be in favor of fair laws and enforcement of laws but also to be in favor of making sure that everyone in our communities is safe under those laws.

And that's how I perceive that the issue was presented at the RNC convention. It was not presented as, this is the only thing. We also had President Trump come on during the convention and pardon someone.

MARTIN: Hayden, what about you? How did you feel the convention handled this issue that's important to you? How do you feel it was delivered? How do you feel the message was delivered?

PADGETT: I think that the Republican national party and President Trump did a good job of that. There was a lot about law and order. He said that a number of times in his acceptance speech. But it was always paired very closely with discussion about criminal justice reform.

MARTIN: So I recognize that all of you are delegates, and part of being a delegate is supporting your candidate. But I do want to ask - and I think it is fair to ask - were any of you bothered by the false statements? Now, I'm not talking about exaggerations because I think, you know, you can make an argument that, you know, politicians kind of puff themselves up. I think that that's what people do.

But I'm talking about outright false statements, like the fact that - saying that, you know, the economy - this is the largest tax cut in history. That's not true. Saying that the economy was lagging when he took office - that's not true. Saying that he protected people with preexisting conditions when, in fact, you know, Republicans have been trying to repeal Obamacare, and when Republicans had both houses of Congress, and the presidency did not present a replacement bill and still haven't.

So, I guess, did - and also, just the whole use of federal properties for some of these partisan events. And I recognize a lot of people think that's an inside-the-Beltway issue. But when people felt that Vice President Gore was making - then-Vice President Gore was making phone calls from his office at the White House, there was a House investigation of this matter. There was a thorough investigation. There were hearings on this matter. So Republicans at that time did take that seriously.

So I just have to ask, did any of those things bother any of you about this convention?

PADGETT: If I may, I'll take first crack at that.

MARTIN: Sure, Hayden, go ahead.

PADGETT: I'll start with the federal property part. I was only uncomfortable when they had the fireworks going off on the National Mall because I just - at first, I was just confused. I didn't understand what was going on. Then when I understood it, then I was - I wish it would've been a different venue.

But at the same time, it didn't really seem like something that was going to be a - something that really mattered to voters in the same way that I don't think President Gore - or Vice President Gore, I'm sorry - making phone calls from his office really mattered to voters.

MARTIN: Who else wanted to jump in on that? I heard somebody wanted to jump in. Was it Jessi or Maria?

VASQUEZ: It was me. It was Maria. And, you know, I guess I - I don't mean to laugh about this, but, you know, it just seems like, you know, we can go back and forth and back and forth on who said what and what's false and what's suggestive statement and exaggerations. But, you know, I - you know, like he said, it's not something that is going to matter for the voters. And if they did, then there's nothing wrong with the voters because we have a lot bigger issues in hand than, you know, than....

MARTIN: Well...

VASQUEZ: ...Than that. And, you know, and the whole health care thing...

MARTIN: Well - but my argument - but my question about this, Maria - it seems to me if you have a strong case on the facts, it seems like you would stick to the facts.

RAPELJE: If Maria doesn't mind, I'd like to kind of jump in on that.

MARTIN: Sure.

RAPELJE: I think that the president did focus on facts. I mean, the fact that we're pulling out and dicing three statements or, you know, a handful of statements out of four nights of a convention of really, really solid policy-based speakers I think points to the fact that, you know, we can go back and forth on these small issues.

But he really did present and the speakers who spoke really did present a case of evidence from the last four years of really substantiative (ph) policy that has gone - has passed into law and has - is currently being worked on and has really had a tangible impact on a lot of voters' lives. And I think that's what people are voting on this year. And that's what voters that I've been talking to this year are voting on.

MARTIN: That was Jessi Rapelje, who is national committee chairwoman of the Young Republican Federation of Virginia. We were also joined by Maria Vasquez, chairwoman of the Champaign County Young Republicans in Champaign, Ill., and Hayden Padgett, chair of the Texas Young Republicans Federation in Plano, Texas.

Thank you all so much for talking to us today. I really enjoyed it. And I hope we'll talk again.

RAPELJE: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

VASQUEZ: Thank you for having me.

PADGETT: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MILLIE JACKSON'S "I CRY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.