An Interview With A Teenage City Council Candidate
Nineteen year old Gavin Nicholson is short on experience, big on ideas
The city of McKinney, located in north Texas near Dallas, is among the fastest growing cities in one of the fastest growing regions in America. McKinney’s population is estimated at about 162,000. That is an astonishing 24% increase since 2010.
With the influx of new residents the staunchly conservative city is becoming younger, more diverse, and increasingly liberal.
In his final address to the nation, former President Barack Obama called on Americans who were not satisfied with their elected officials to challenge themselves and run for office.
One young person in McKinney is channeling the spirit of that message as he campaigns to become the youngest city councilman in his city’s history.
Gavin Nicholson is a 19-year old McKinney resident who graduated from high school less than two years ago and is a Computer Science major at Collin College.
He is also one of five candidates vying to replace Travis Ussery as McKinney’s City Councilman for District 3.
Although McKinney’s city elections are non-partisan, Nicholson appears to favor progressive policies to move the city forward. He opposes Texas Senate Bill 6 a so-called “bathroom bill” forcing transgender people to use the restroom corresponding with their birth certificate, and his Facebook profile includes a message of support for America’s refugee community.
His campaign platform also calls for converting McKinney into a green energy city.
Nicholson knows winning will be an uphill battle. Of his five opponents he is the one with the least experience. Three of his opponents have been recognized by city sponsored organizations for their work at local businesses.
However a teenager winning an election in north Texas would not be completely unprecedented.
In neighboring Plano, another fast growing city in Collin County, John Payton was elected Justice of the Peace in 1990 as an 18-year old high school student.
27 years later Judge Payton serves in the same position and has been re-elected multiple times. The Dallas Morning News chronicled Payton’s story in 2010.
If Nicholson can win the upcoming election he would join Payton and make history as one of the youngest elected officials in Texas history.
McKinney’s city elections will take place on Saturday, May 6.
Read the transcript of my Monday, February 20 interview with Nicholson below. It is lightly edited for clarity.
I invite everyone to DM me anytime they wish. Your opinion matters to me and I want to hear what citizens have to say about any issue.
MR: You were born in 1997. What do you say to citizens of McKinney who say you are too young to run for office?
Nicholson: Well, it is something that I have been asked a lot. They say you don’t have any life experience or any experience in general. What makes you think you can step into the field of politics? There is a great example actually in Collin County. [Judge John Payton] years back ran for Justice of the Peace at 18 years old. All of his funds came from his mom and his family. He won the Republican primary with 58% of the vote and then won the general election. He is actually still serving and is known around the state for his excellent handling of truancy cases. I don’t think experience is really a big issue for something of this sort. I think it’s more about who has the dedication and commitment to making McKinney the best it can be. Not necessarily who has twenty or thirty years of business experience.
MR: What is your campaign strategy to get your message out to McKinney citizens?
Nicholson: I’ve been working with a lot of local kids at high schools and colleges. I really want to strive for more of a grassroots efforts. I think that is a lot better than spending thousands of dollars on radio ads, or TV ads, or even printing out big signs. I think it’s better to actually meet with your constituents and tell them I want to represent you at the city council. I’ve been trying to go around neighborhoods, knock on doors, and just meet with the residents.
MR: What kind of reception are you getting from your constituents when you tell them you are running for council?
Nicholson: Usually I’ve been getting a good response. A lot of people are surprised that someone as young as me wants to get involved. Usually they say it’s inspiring that someone my age can get out there and take everything head-on. The field of politics is not a nice field to play in. It can get pretty dirty if your opponents choose to do move their campaigns in that direction. So they say it’s inspiring that I am taking the extra time out of my life at such a young age to go represent the people.
MR: You are running against a few other opponents with a lot of experience. What do you think your chances are of winning?
Nicholson: I think my chances of winning are actually pretty high if I can get out and do this. It certainly would be an upset, in my opinion, if I win. I’m working with a lot of great people right now and I think as long as I keep putting in the amount of effort I am, there’s a very real possibility that I can win.
MR: Beyond questions of if you can win and your age. What’s your vision for District 3?
Nicholson: My vision for District 3 is this: Overall, I want to keep District 3 kind of the way it is, but keep pushing it forward. If you look at east McKinney right now, some parts have been forgotten. As McKinney expands onward to the west, that is going to leave more questions about what is going to happen to District 3. Because certain parts of the district are in east McKinney and the downtown area. I want to keep District 3 a great place to live. If I recall correctly it has the most registered voters in the city. There is a lot of families that live here. I want to keep the district a very family friendly place. Who better to do that than someone who is still living with their family? I want to see it still be a family environment. I want to see more houses come up here and I just want to see the district grow.
MR: You called the McKinney Airport a gold mine waiting to happen. What did you mean by that?
Nicholson: Well, for example, you can look at what is going to happen with the President. When the President comes to [Dallas Love Field] that creates a lot of congestion with traffic and private planes especially who don’t want to have to deal with that. They are going to have to go somewhere and McKinney could potentially be that place where private jets or private planes go. If we can expand the airport we could even open it up for more commercial planes. Which could bring in other companies such as Amazon and places like that. If we do that it brings more business to McKinney. I think this is one of those investments that needs to happen. Everyone wants to talk tough about bringing new businesses in here. We have an opportunity to get businesses in here, but it’s kind of that uncomfortable situation where people don’t want to deal with the airport because of their factories, houses, and airplanes flying over McKinney. However, I think we need the airport in McKinney and it is a gold mine waiting to happen.
MR: What other strategies would you have as a city councilman for developing businesses?
Nicholson: Right now I am in contact with certain individuals who are trying to make more business in McKinney happen. I’m working out contracts and stuff like that right now. Well, I shouldn’t say contracts, but I am talking with potential business owners that want to bring their business into McKinney. I do have the contacts to make it happen, but it’s just convincing them to come to McKinney. I’m going to work diligently with them regardless of whether or not I get elected in May.
“When our Founding Fathers were talking they said we want a government for the people and by the people, not just a select handful. It’s important that we represent everyone in our government equally.”
-Gavin Nicholson, Candidate for McKinney City Council
MR: Texas is considering a bathroom bill in the state legislature that would ban transgender people from using the restroom of their choice. Do you support that kind of bill in McKinney?
Nicholson: I do not. I think the government has no place to say who can or cannot use what restroom. People have been going to the bathroom of their choice for years. It is one of those issues that’s been blown out of proportion by the media and both political parties, frankly. It doesn’t affect me in any way. When I use the restroom I am just there to do exactly that. I think the majority of Americans would agree that is what we go to the bathroom for. I think this bathroom bill just doesn’t seem right. When our Founding Fathers were talking they said we want a government for the people and by the people, not just a select handful. It’s important that we represent everyone in our government equally.
MR: I want to give you one more chance to make your final pitch to McKinney voters and why they should vote for you.
Nicholson: My pitch would be this: If we want real change in McKinney we need to look at everyone who is running right now and we have to stop electing the same people that are going to bring empty promises to [the city]. We need to look at people who are actually doing what they say they are going to do. I, for one, have been doing that. I have been meeting with several leaders around McKinney. I’ve already met with CEO’s and asked them about what more I can do and I plan to do more of that kind of stuff. If the people of McKinney, especially District 3, want real change I think I am the candidate to do that.