When St. Thomas senior Jake Cordes sat down with friends in his hometown of Farmington, Minn., and discussed some of the qualities they would like to see in a school board member, he wasn’t picturing himself for the job.
A year and a half later, Cordes, 21, is an elected Farmington school board member, making him one of the youngest office holders in Minnesota.
Cordes thought his young age would be a “huge liability” in the campaign, but said only a few people brought it up. In fact, Cordes said his age may have been given him an advantage.
“A lot of people liked getting some fresh ideas and some new blood in there,” Cordes said. “I offer a unique perspective to the school board because I’m somebody who, more recently than any of the other school board members, was actually in the classroom.”
St. Cloud State sophomore Allen Berg, Cordes’ campaign manager, said he thinks Cordes will bring a needed change of pace to the board.
“The school board recently is a lot more about finances and policies, but I think Jake’s going to focus more on what students need to successfully make it in the real world,” Berg said.
After getting some encouragement from his friends, Cordes officially announced his candidacy in March, and said the journey has “been fun ever since then.” He started campaigning with letters to local newspapers and participating in Farmington’s “Dew Days” festival. In August, Cordes started going door-to-door, something he thinks made all the difference in his campaign.
“I hit about half the houses in the district, and I think that really helped,” Cordes said. “My family has lived in Farmington for generations, so a lot of people already recognized my name or knew who I was or they knew somebody I was related to.”
Berg said he thinks Cordes had a hometown advantage in this campaign.
“He was the only candidate who came back to his hometown after graduating and was willing to step forward and kind of put himself out there and try to solve the issues going on,” Berg said.
All of Cordes’ campaigning paid off Nov. 7, when at 12:30 a.m. he found out he had officially been elected to the school board. But instead of celebrating after “stressing all day,” Cordes said he went home and tried to sleep before getting up at 6 a.m. for class the next day.
“I went home and laid there, and first thought ‘oh my God, I got elected’ and then ‘oh my God, what am I going to do now?’ All these ideas are rushing through my head, I couldn’t fall asleep,” Cordes said.
After the initial shock wore off, Cordes said he feels prepared for when he officially takes office Jan. 7.
“I know what I’m getting into. Over the course of campaigning, I sat down with most of the current school board members and they gave me a quick explanation of what it is you do,” Cordes said.
Cordes said once he is officially in office, one of the things he will be focus on is modernizing education.
“Right now we’re using the same model that our parents used, our grandparents used, our great grandparents used, I think we really need to move education forward into the 21st century,” Cordes said.
While Cordes said politics has always been an interest for him, and even after he graduates in December with a business leadership and management degree, being a member of the school board will not be the only thing on his plate.
“This is only a part-time job; it won’t pay the bills by any means,” Cordes said.
Cordes hopes to get a job at Thompson Reuters, a publishing company in Eagan, Minn., where he is currently an intern.
However, he said he isn’t ruling out the idea of continuing a political career in Farmington, or elsewhere.
“I’d definitely give it consideration,” Cordes said. “But for the next four years, my focus will be on Farmington.”
Gabrielle Martinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.