WAIANAE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State Rep. Cedric Gates, the youngest state legislator in Hawaii, thinks the best way to get young voters to the polls is to put them in office.
"They need to be represented," he said.
Gates, 24, said his own path to office was a tough one, much like the community he grew up in. He was born and raised in Makaha.
"Drugs, violence, crime were prevalent in the community," he said. "I felt committed to stop going down the wrong lifestyle."
His father worked long hours to support him and his siblings, and it got even harder for the family when Gates' mother died when he was 12.
In high school, he was labeled an "at-risk" youth. He knew he was going down a destructive path, and he says a national program was what took him off it.
At 15, he entered the YouthBuild Honolulu program for low-income, high-school dropouts. He said that if it wasn't for the program, he would be dead or in jail.
Five years later, at 20, he ran for the first time — vying for the legislative seat that represents Waianae, Makaha and parts of Maili as a Green Party candidate.
He lost, but vowed to keep trying.
Two years later, he defeated the incumbent in the primary and went on to win the seat with more than 60 percent of the vote.
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He attributed part of his success to the results of the 2016 election to his strategy of reaching young voters.
"I wanted to inform them that their vote was going to be heard," he said.
Now, Gates is looking to encourage more young voters to get to the voting booth this election season.
Voter turnout is lowest among those from 18 to 29. Turnout rates for the group were just 46 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Gates says that's disheartening.
Two years ago, Gates went as far as shuttling younger voters on a bus to the early polling stations, talking to them about the election on the way.
"We're the closest ones to what's happening," he said. " We're running in the streets, going to the parks, learning in the schools. The decisions being made will impact my generation more."
That's his response to the skeptics who think people in their early 20s are too young for office.
"That was something I had to overcome, because the people were skeptical," he said.