OAK HILL, W.Va. (AP/The Register-Herald) — At 17 years old, Colby Lopez isn’t a typical teenager.
Instead of the latest trends, gossip and graduation just months away, the teen from Oak Hill has shifted his focus to running for Oak Hill City Council for the city’s Ward Two.
“For someone so young, business and politics is what I care about,” said the high school senior, who will be attending the West Virginia University Institute of Technology in the fall. “For some reason, I’ve just never been interested in what most people my age really would be.”
To those who question his age, Lopez points out that Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, who Lopez said were two of the most popular presidents, also were the nation’s youngest presidents.
“Young people should always be in government,” Lopez said, adding that the younger generation can better understand the modern world.
While running for local politics, the student said his interest in how government works was sparked by politics at the national level including the most recent presidential race.
“Everyone talks about politics now, even in high school,”Lopez said.
While interested in national politics, the student believes his positions can help benefit the city that he has lived in since the first grade.
Lopez is running on a platform of infrastructure, education, health care, community policing and a program he calls “Profits for the People.”
Under that proposed program, the city will take abandoned buildings, monetize them and share the profits from the ventures with the city’s residents.
The high school student compared his proposed program to a program in Alaska, where residents receive a check from the state from revenues it receives from oil extraction.
Lopez believes that a program like Profits for the People will set Oak Hill apart from others in the area, and will draw in new residents and help keep ones that are tempted to leave.
“Even in my own friend group, there’s a lot of people that don’t want to stay here in Oak Hill,” the candidate said. “But I just have to do something because I’m not that type of person.”
Along with his proposed program, Lopez pointed to the infrastructure improvements as an economic booster.
“Business won’t even look at the location if it doesn’t have the infrastructure,” Lopez said.
Along with infrastructure, Lopez pointed towards having an educated workforce as a necessity.
“I believe that infrastructure and education goes a really long way with the economy,” Lopez said.
With his age, Lopez said that he believes he can bring a fresh perspective to Oak Hill’s government.
“I just don’t feel like the current council is doing enough,” the candidate said. “I think they have started to try and make it look like they’re doing stuff. It’s my opinion, and a lot of my friends, that this is just a fake attempt to make it look like it where the election is happening.”
To a question on tourism, Lopez said that the tourism industry could help boost the town’s economy, but that tourism wasn’t a cure–all.
“Tourism itself isn’t going to build an economy,” the candidate said. “While we should try our best in the tourism industry, we should also do as much as we can in addition to that.”
To that, Lopez said the task at hand would be a personal responsibility.
“I’d personally try my best, on my own, trying to go anywhere I could to bring business here,” the candidate said.
Another issue that Lopez said he was concerned about was what to do about the opioid epidemic which has hit West Virginia particularly hard.
“The opioid epidemic is a very big problem and it’s going to be difficult to tackle,” Lopez said. “We need to look at every single point of the epidemic and tackle each individually. If we try and tackle the whole thing all at once, it’s going to be a monster of a battle.”
As a candidate for Ward Two, Lopez also said that the environmental problems involving Minden must be solved right away.
Lopez’ father migrated to the United States from Mexico as a child, and cannot vote although he is a permanent resident. And his mother simply has not voted. Despite being the son of two non–voters, Lopez said the reception about his candidacy from his family and friends has been warm.
“A lot of them are excited about it,” the student said of his fellow classmates.
While noting that the city has an uphill climb, Lopez believes that it may have a bright future.
“With the current council, I don’t think it will be too successful,” Lopez said. “But I believe with me and some of the other great people running, because there are a lot of people running, that we could put Oak Hill on its path to success.”