Nov. 8 may be the presidential election, but it’s also a big day for candidates running in our local elections. In the town of Barnstable, Aaron Kanzer is running as the Democratic nominee for Massachusetts state representative. The Northeastern University graduate is an energized voice hoping to bring solutions to his home of Cape Cod; on top of that, Kanzer is a particularly young candidate at 21 years old. Despite his age, Kanzer has worked for the MBTA, the Federal Reserve Bank and several grassroots organizations looking to engage youth in politics. We sat down with Kanzer for a Q&A to dive deeper into his platform and gain some insight into what it’s like to be a young politician.
The Daily Free Press: Why did you decide to run for state representative?
Aaron Kanzer: I’m just running where I grew up and I noticed some things, some changes, some issues and I wanted to be a part of the proposed solutions. I figured, why wait? Why not go home and hopefully try to make the community that I grew up in a better place?
DFP: Why is it important that young people hold elected positions in government, and why should college students should care about local elections?
AK: I think it’s important that we have a wide array of perspective as well as understanding our preferences for different parts of the population. A lot of issues that face younger people, younger people who are trying to run for office or being in a position where they’re representing other people, they’re probably the most qualified people that understand those issues because they’re living with the effects of it currently.
In regards to why more young people should be involved, people should never feel like there are any barriers or recipes in terms of representing people. It’s always to put yourself out there and look to see if you can make a difference. In terms of caring about your local community, those are the people that you can call that you can visit to voice your issues. The federal government level … you’re not going to be able to get on the phone and talk to the president or talk to a congressman most likely, so it’s very important that we care about our local representation. Their decisions are the ones that are going to impact us the most on a day-to-day basis.
DFP: The opioid crisis is one of the bigger problems that New England and Cape Cod face today. What do you plan to do to alleviate this crisis?
AK: A lot of the solutions that are most optimal, they require a substantial amount of funding. Obviously, we’re seeking to find additional sources of revenue from taxes or what have it, you know, appropriation of funds. Just trying to get more money pumped into the system to solve those issues. In terms of creating more revenue, we want to propose taxation on nips, those small little bottles of alcohol that you find on the side of the road usually. They’re very cheap, they’re very dangerous to society. When you see one on the side of the road, that means someone ingested them while they were driving. One thing that we want to do, let’s say you recycle 20 cans — you can go buy one in the state of Massachusetts, sometimes it costs a dollar. We want to implement a tax in which we can generate more revenue to take care of treatment facilities and education.
DFP: Another issue that your district faces is a lack of affordable housing. What is your plan to create more housing for people who want to stay in Cape Cod?
AK: Our plan is regarding accessory apartments. The goal is to provide streamline zoning regulations — bring back the restrictions as to who can live in the accessory apartment. There are a lot of rules down here on the Cape that deal with who can occupy them. And also expand on the program in the district that allows people to apply for $30,000 minimal interest loans. We want to expand the amount. The average accessory units costs around $70,000. Thirty grand is not going to cut it. Obviously there’s an issue there with collateral and people having qualifying credit, but we want to see what kind of avenues we can explore in order to facilitate the construction of accessory units.
DFP: If elected, what two or three main issues would you prioritize?
AK: The No. 1 issue I’d prioritize is the wastewater problem. The environment is what makes Cape Cod special. Right now, we have a huge issue with nitrogen loading from fertilizer we put on golf courses to septic tanks to storm water runoff. Nitrogen is not good, whether it’s for drinking water or coastal environments. No. 2 would be affordability in general, whether it’s housing, substantial wages to afford to live here, healthcare costs, anything that has a price tag attached to it. The third thing would be substance abuse.
DFP: What’s the most memorable thing that has happened to you on the campaign trail?
AK: I got my car towed, and I have these lawn sign-like magnets on the side of the car. The car was brought to a tow yard that had a lot of Republican signs from local candidates. I went in there, and the guy who works at the front desk picks up the phone and is talking on it saying, “Yeah, that’s the guy, that’s the guy!” and I’m like, “Oh my God, what’s going to happen?” He puts down the phone and he tells me, “The owner is a huge fan, 50 percent off on your tow.” I guess that’s the most memorable thing. I know it sounds kind of weird.
DFP: Who is someone you look up to? Why do you look up to them?
AK: Paul Hebert. He’s the town constable down in Barnstable and he used to run a nonprofit that took in homeless teens. He’s a nice guy.
DFP: What is your best advice for college students who may want to run for office someday?
AK: Don’t get arrested. No, I’m kidding. Just be open-minded. Try to diversify what you learn about. Also, develop a good work ethic. When you’re running for office, it’s a whole lot of work. You need to be dedicated to it, you have to make some sacrifices and you have to learn how to answer every question in a polite and articulate manner. I know at BU or where I went at Northeastern, they are incredible places with so many different things you can learn. There’s a club for everything and there’s people interested in everything, so take the opportunity to learn about a lot of issues. Be a well-rounded individual. The other I would say, too, is take a course in economics. Money talks with a lot of these local-level issues. Public policy is more respected than politics.