Colton Thornton, 26
The state of Mississippi currently has no equal protection bills, causing many young people to flee the state seeking more welcoming communities. Colton Thorton, 26, hopes to move the state forward and be a voice for young people in the Mississippi State Senate.
What was the best piece of advice you received before you ran for office?
The best piece of advice I received was actually, believe it or not, from Tom Perez, I had the chance to speak with him at our Democratic headquarters in Mississippi. He was coming down here to help campaign. It seems really cliche, but he said to just make sure that you run as you are. Don't try to focus on things that you think would make you electable.
He said that's one of the biggest issues people have when they first run. They just try to focus on these issues that they think is going to get them elected instead of actually standing up for the values they believed in. That is really important for me as a young candidate because that helps me stand out from the other older people that we have an office here.
So when it that light bulb go off? When did you realize I want to run to office?
There wasn't a single event that happened. I did a legislative advocacy day with the ACLU and we had a chance to go speak with legislators one-on-one about some of the issues that we cared about. Specifically, we had a couple of bills that we wanted to see passed that were getting ready to be held on the floor to be voted on. And I actually had the worst experience with my own state senator. He just refused to talk about any issue that was important to young people or anyone at the ACLU that day. So that was definitely a big day where I thought, “Okay, this really isn't fair. If no one else is going to do it, I need to step up in line.”
And so I carried that knowledge, I went forward and I tried to get involved with more things in the issues like I cared about.
What are the issues that you think are really affecting young people in your state?
“We actually don't have any equal protection bills in the state of Mississippi whatsoever. That needs to be addressed because we do have our young people that are fleeing the state because they feel unwelcome.”
So the biggest issues I see that are affecting young people in Mississippi, I talked about this all the time, about how I think I have up to eight friends now that have now fled the state. Most of them leave because there are better job opportunities in other surrounding states that offer higher paying jobs. Some of my friends have left because they are members of the LGBT community, and they don't feel welcome in their own state.
We have a very bad track record when it comes to civil rights in the state. We also have HB 1523, which was passed a couple of years ago, and essentially legalizes discrimination against members of the LGBT community based on faith. We actually don't have any equal protection bills in the state of Mississippi whatsoever. That needs to be addressed because we do have our young people that are fleeing the state because they feel unwelcome.
Some of the people I've known personally have suffered physical violence because of that. So basically, we have a situation where young people are looking at their state officials, and they don't see anyone that shares their values, and they feel vastly underrepresented. So they want to go places where they feel better represented for them.
You identify as a progressive democrat. How do you define progressive?
It depends on a lot on where you are. For example, in Mississippi, I would say, being progressive in health care is to make progress by joining other red states in the area in the southeast that have accepted Medicaid expansion. That would be making progress to the rural health care crisis that we have in Mississippi where we have about 300,000 people that could be covered if we accepted Medicaid expansion. We've had several rural hospitals close down because they simply don't have the support they need. So that is an example of being progressive in Mississippi.
“None of these other issues matter if you don't have your health.”
There’s a conception of a rural/urban and conservative/liberal divide. As you’re working in rural areas, do you find that to be true in your district?
On the national stage. I think that's true. But in the statewide race, you have to break it down district by district. My district is the largest one in the state and it's very, very diverse. My district stretches from the wealthy suburbs, obviously predominantly white, around Jackson, and spreads all the way up into the Mississippi Delta, which everyone knows is some of the poorest and predominately black communities in the US. So my district covers pretty much everything in between.
But especially when it comes to health care, that's one of the things that I try to drive home a lot when I'm on the campaign trail in rural areas, because that is truly something that's so important to me, regardless of what your party affiliation is. None of these other issues matter if you don't have your health. What’s the point of fully funding public schools, if you can't be there for your child. If you can't afford your prescription medication, you can't go to your child's graduation. If you’ve been hospitalized with something that could have been prevented had you had the primary care that you needed.
That’s something we see a lot of times when we have people who don't have insurance. For example, if someone has high blood pressure, obviously a very manageable condition because this person didn't have the primary care they needed, they didn't have insurance, they didn't have that are taken care of. And so now they end up in the emergency room a couple of months later with a stroke. So I always stress the point that it's not only the responsible and the moral thing to do, but it's a fiscally responsible thing to do because preventive care is always cheaper and more efficient than treating something on the back end.
What perspectives do you think are missing in your state senate? And what are you hoping to bring?
The current perspectives that are missing the most are people who are younger. There’s definitely a lot of good people in the Senate. But there's something to be said about someone who is younger. I get attacked all the time. “You’re young, what do you know? You don't have the same life experience.” And that is true. But I think there's something to be said for someone who has a policy vision, not for the next 4 years of my term but for the next 40 years. There’s something to be said for someone who would be there to see the progress all the way through. So definitely starting to cater to the issues of tomorrow. Not just about the issues of today. I think that's where we get caught up on so much with a lot of older people in the legislature, we're so focused on the issues of today. And while those are important, I believe that we can have a strategy where we attack both at the same time, we're so focused on the issues of the day that we don't really acknowledge the brain drain that's happening in Mississippi, we don't see that there's a change among young people whose values are changing. They want to see different people involved. That’s the kind of perspective that I would help bring that currently is not there.
What’s the best piece of advice you would give to another young Democrat considering a run for office?
Don't be afraid, just do it. I was certainly scared when I started off. As a first time candidate, a lot of mornings I thought, “What the hell I'm doing?”
But it helps when you get involved. You don't have to have connections with other politicians. I would just say start with where you are. So wherever you are from, form that as your base, you always have contacts around those organizations that would be willing to help you or at least point you in the right direction.
Several people that I met with in the ACLU were able to then connect me with other people. So while I didn't know anything about running a campaign, as long as you have the people in place that support you to do that. Everything else comes naturally. And I know it's so cliche to say it, but really, as long as you're in it for the right reasons, that's the most important thing. Like I said, I got involved not knowing anything about campaigns. If we want to see the change in Mississippi that young people want to see, eventually, some young people are gonna have to get up off the bench and get involved.
The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.