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The Daily Tar Heel

N.C. Senator Encourages Political Activism

Cal Cunningham, D-Davidson, said Monday night that student involvement was not only important in his 2000 campaign but also in the future of North Carolina.

"Run for office and get involved," Cunningham said. "Our state depends on it."

Cunningham, a member of the UNC class of 1996, skipped out early from a General Assembly session to meet with nearly 40 students, many of whom helped him during his 2000 campaign.

"I wouldn't be standing here without the help of this group of Young Democrats," Cunningham said. "This is an era where most campaigns are TV ads and newspaper ads -- it made all the difference in the world having people go door-to-door."

Cunningham, who at 27 is the youngest member of the N.C. Senate, said he will face many difficult tasks in his first term, including the $800 million budget deficit, the lottery debate, campaign finance reform and education. Many of the Young Democrats said they find Cunningham an inspiration.

Chris Brook, UNC Young Democrats president, worked with Cunningham on four separate occasions during the 2000 campaign.

"It's phenomenal," Brook said. "Someone 27 years old making a difference makes me think you can make a difference.

"I'm 21," he said. "In six years that could be me."

Stacy Smith, a junior journalism major from Raleigh, said she was not sure what kind of effect Cunningham's youthfulness would have in office.

"I was very impressed," Smith said. "His age has a lot to do with it because he is more approachable."

Smith said Cunningham also provides a UNC success story, giving current students hope for postgraduate success.

Susan Navarro, a freshman political science and southern studies major from Winston-Salem, said she also is uncertain how Cunningham's youth will impact his term.

Navarro said she was initially wary of Cunningham's concern for the issues at hand, such as a moratorium on the death penalty. "(But) he really cares about the issues and takes a stance," she said. "It's encouraging to see actual representation."

Although Cunningham's youthfulness might be a prevalent aspect on his resume, he is also vice chairman of the Judiciary I Committee, where civil law is discussed.

But Cunningham said he is learning how to be a senator every day by deciding whether or not to become involved in several of the more pressing issues slated to go to the floor in the General Assembly this session.

"I'm just taking it day-by-day," he said. "You learn that you can't sponsor something that your constituents won't want.

"You have to pick your battles."

Cunningham also invited all UNC students to Raleigh to visit the legislature -- to see how state government works or to protest University tuition increases.

"(University) administrators are prohibited from coming over (to Raleigh)," Cunningham said. "Students can go over there any time, and they should."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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