Pride and politics

Story by Katie Hoffman

Senior Paydon Miller’s first memory of being interested in politics was when he was around 10 years old.

Citing his mother as his source of ideology, with her “live and let live” attitude, Miller said he credits her for getting him involved in politics.

Miller said that although his parents vote, they aren’t especially active in politics.

“They’ve come on board a lot more in the past couple years, but in the beginning I don’t really think they thought anything substantial would come of it,” Miller said.

College Democrats
As a freshman at UW-Eau Claire in 2007, Miller started to get more involved in politics.

“My third week of school, one of my friends invited me to a meeting of the College Democrats,” he said. “I went and I knew it was something I wanted to spend my time doing.”

The friendly environment along with challenging debate are two aspects of the group that Miller said kept him coming back. He said he was forced to question his stance on issues and enjoyed the experience.

Senior Dylan Jambrek was president of the organization at the time, and Miller said he quickly became a mentor-figure.

That semester, Miller was elected secretary of the organization. With a little nudge from Jambrek, Miller became the president just his second semester after joining the group, and would stay in that position for two years. Although new to the organization, Miller wasted no time getting started.

“My focus as president was to put a human face to the issues,” Miller said. “There are people being affected by every one of these policies, so we aimed to first develop the idea that politics is not this abstract idea, its concrete and everyday.”

With the ultimate goal of getting busy college students to care about politics and become more involved, Miller started to organize rallies, protests and gather petitions, striving to be the one to bring issues to students.

“Once you connect the dots for students they do get involved and they do get interested,” Miller said. “Students are busy, sometimes there has to be someone who connects the dots for them, but fundamentally, students do care.”

Student Senate
The next step in Miller’s political involvement came when he joined Student Senate his junior year. Although he always had an interest in government, Miller said Senate was more something he wanted to try to see how it suited him.

“Senate is entirely different from College Dems. One is a partisan group, and Senate is non-partisan,” Miller said. “Senate is more of a legislative body, and I wanted to see how I liked it, or if I even did.”

Junior Phil Rynish, student body president, said other senators turn to Miller for his point of view on issues, seeing him as a person to listen to.

“Paydon brings passion and an active approach to senate,” Rynish said. “He’s a very good persuasive speaker and people like him.”

Miller’s fighting spirit is clear when he describes his most memorable senate moment as not a victory, but a defeat. When he authored a resolution in opposition of voter IDs, Miller stood up for almost two hours to fight for students’ voting rights. The resolution ended up being amended into “almost nothing” but Miller didn’t let that affect him.

“I walked out of there defeated, but I had my head held high and that’s something I’m very proud that I did,” Miller said.

Rynish agrees, remembering that meeting.

“Paydon is a fighter, if nothing else,” Rynish said. “He keeps going no matter what the setback.”

Chairman of College Democrats
After holding positions including communications director and development director for the College Democrats of Wisconsin, people started approaching Miller due to his experience in grassroots organizing.

The organization was looking for someone who could rebuild and strengthen the group, so Miller decided to run for the chairman — making him in charge of each Wisconsin chapter of the organization.

Miller won the chairman election when his opponent dropped out of the race 12 hours before votes were cast. Looking back, Miller said it never seemed like something that would happen, and he was “honored” to
be elected.

“Just going back from when I was a freshman … I didn’t really take myself seriously,” he said. “It has meant so much to me that the College Dems across the state trusted me enough and trusted our org enough to give me that opportunity. It was an absolute thrill.”

Miller said he knows 2012 will be a crucial year for politics.

“We need to be the most effective and efficient political organization possible because the student vote could very well be the difference,” Miller said.

As chairman, Miller oversees the 22 chapters of the College Democrats around the state, at both two and four year universities as well as technical colleges. Every two weeks Miller touches base with the chapter presidents via conference call to make sure the individual groups coordinate their efforts to benefit the larger state group.

Miller said he is especially proud of the “budding chapters” of College Democrats around the state. While acknowledging the bigger chapters, at UW-Madison, Milwaukee and Eau Claire, he said the most important groups are the smaller ones, where 5-10 dedicated people can make a big difference.

“My job is to make the chapter chairs lives as easy as possible,” he said. “A lot is providing info and resources, but a lot is giving them pushes in the right direction.”

Looking ahead
As a political science and print journalism double major, Miller is interested in working in the communication side of politics after graduating and said he will miss being involved in College Democrats.

“The College Democrats of Wisconsin are some of the most dedicated and thoughtful individuals I’ve ever had the honor to work with,” Miller said.

Miller said he loves politics because it is the battle for everyday life.

“There’s something fundamentally satisfying about being on the ground trying to steer the country in the right direction. It takes root in you and you start having little victories, having a real life impact because you were willing to make a phone call, write a letter.”

Steven Majstorovic, a political science professor at Eau Claire, has had Miller in two classes and said he sees Miller’s desire to serve the public.

“Paydon has been one of the best students I’ve had in my classes,” Majstorovic said. “He brings perspective, always does reading and shows up. He pays attention to what’s going on outside of class, even subtleties
internationally.”

Miller said his passion is with campaigning. He said he loves the challenge it brings, along with the strategy needed to do well.

“He’s not just a blanket, he sees each side’s problems and stays open minded and thinks rationally,” Majstorovic said. “A lot of students are just involved to build their resume, but he actually applies himself and he is very good at balancing”

When asked how he thinks he balances his time as chairman and senator with being a full-time student, Miller is quick to respond with laughter and a smirk.

“I have no idea. I just have to time manage well,” he said. “I just do.”