This Teenager Ran For Elected Office — Here’s What He Learned

Nineteen year old Gavin Nicholson discusses his experience running for City Council in Texas

Gavin R. Nicholson (Photo: John M. Stafford)

Gavin Nicholson announced he was running to represent McKinney’s district 3 in the city council less than two months after his 19th birthday.

McKinney is a rapidly expanding suburb of Dallas, it is consistently ranked as one of the fastest growing cities in Texas. The population of McKinney is currently estimated to be around 168,000.

Nicholson’s unconventional campaign received attention from local news outlets, but he was not expected to defeat his more experienced opponents. Rantt News previously profiled his campaign in February.

As the votes started coming in on Saturday, May 6, it became clear that Nicholson would not make history as McKinney’s next councilperson for District 3.

He won 4.1% of the vote and finished behind all four of his opponents. Two of his opponents, Scott Elliott and Margaret Harsch, will face off in a run-off election on Saturday, June 10.

Nicholson is not deterred by his campaign’s last place finish. He knows that some voters dismissed his candidacy instantly because of his age, but he considers his campaign an intimate learning experience in public policy and city government.

Nicholson is not ruling out a future run for elected office.

Read the transcript of my Wednesday, May 24 interview with Nicholson below. It is lightly edited for clarity.

MR: You had recently turned 19 when you started running for city council. You made it all the way through the election against four other opponents and you end up taking home a little less than 5% of the vote. What are your takeaways from the campaign?

Nicholson: It was certainly a way to get more active in the community. I met a lot of people and learned more about city government from hearing other people’s perspectives when I met them on the campaign trail. I learned different solutions to different problems throughout the city by meeting people I would not have met had I not run. It’s also incredible the amount of people who are actually interested in [city government]. I wish it was more, but there’s still just a vast number of groups that are involved. It’s just incredible.

MR: I think there is an uptick in young people running for local office. What advice would you have for other teenagers or twenty-somethings who decide to run for office? Would you recommend running for office as a twenty-something or as a teenager?

Nicholson: I would absolutely recommend it. One of the biggest factors of my race was that I ran against four other very strong opponents. [My opponents] Scott [Elliott], Margaret [Harsch], Jeremiah [Hammer], and Sheila [Johnson] have all been active in the community for quite some time. If it was against somebody else besides those four, I think I would have done a lot better. My advice to any young adult who wants to run? I’d say go for it! There’s really nothing you have to lose. You can only gain experience by doing it. You can only meet new people. You can only make new connections. There’s nothing to lose by doing it.

MR: Were there any moments where you felt being young and inexperienced hurt you in the campaign? Were there any moments where you felt out of your depth?

Nicholson: There was a moment or two, here or there, where I know people looked at me and they saw that I was 19-years old, still in college, and they didn’t take me seriously. I want to think that it was not a large portion of the people I talked to, but it was definitely there. More often than not, it was the exact opposite. People would come into a room and they would see me where all the other candidates were and as the forum begins they would hear my answers and they would be taken aback by the level of my answers. I did my research. I did everything that any candidate would do. I had one person come up to me after one forum. He said the way I had answered a question was flawless and incredible, and they weren’t expecting that from me. My age definitely had an impact on a lot of people, but it didn’t discourage me from trying my best.

MR: Is there anything you would do differently if you ran again, or are you pleased completely with how you ran your campaign?

Nicholson: Well, I would not say that I am completely pleased with how I ran my campaign. I learned a lot of my things on the spot through my campaign. I know there is a lot of things I have to fix next time, if I do plan on running again. I know I have the solutions on how to fix some of those problems. Some of which would be: donations, how to block walk more efficiently, phone bank more efficiently, things of that nature. That was something I had to learn on the spot. I have met some contacts and people now that will definitely help me out with that and I think they would be great resources if I ever decide to run again.

MR: That touches on the next thing I was going to ask you. Do you see yourself running for office again?

Nicholson: I’ll say that I am not going to not consider it. A lot of people I met told me that I need to run again and they want to see me run again. I think it is something I need to consider. I want to stay active in the city, I want to stay active in politics. If in two years or four years another election comes up where I feel like it would be a good time for me to run, then I may run.

MR: We have been talking about you, but let’s get back to district 3. In the run-off election it will be Scott Elliott versus Margaret Harsch. Are you leaning one way or another in that election?

Nicholson: I am leaning a bit more towards one candidate. I’ve spoken with both Scott and Margaret quite a bit, both throughout the campaign and even after the run-off. My honest answer is that I think whoever gets elected will represent district 3 well. They are both very competent, they are both great people. I am personally leaning a bit more towards Margaret because I have had more contact with her and know more people that know her as well. Overall, I feel like her and I relate more on several issues. So I am leaning a bit more towards Margaret at this point.

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