By Bridgett Hernandez
A 17-year-old Whitley County resident has thrown his hat into the running for County Council, third district.
James Romano, a senior at Canterbury High School, is seeking the Republican endorsement in the May 8 Primary Election. Republican candidate Timothy Kumfer and Democratic candidate Jamie Overdeer are also seeking nominations for the seat that Republican Glen LaRue has held for 11 years.
Romano’s interest in politics first began when he was in kindergarten. He remembers playing with presidential flash cards and being fascinated with the biographies and how each president left his mark on the country.
His favorite president is Abraham Lincoln because of Lincoln’s ability to pull the country together during one of the most trying and politically divisive eras in America. Romano also admires that Lincoln, who spent his formative years in Indiana, was a self-made man who educated himself and was able to rise from a humble upbringing to the nation’s highest office.
His interest in local politics began at age 8 when he began attending local GOP events. Later, he encouraged his mother, now Columbia City Councilwoman Jenifer Romano, to run for office.
In recent years, he has worked as a volunteer on Congressman Jim Banks’ campaigns for Whitley County Council, Indiana Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.
The high school senior serves as house leader (class president), is a member of the honor committee and is a four-year member of the finance committee and Key Club, in addition to other extracurricular activities. He was a 2017 graduate of the American Legion’s Hoosier Boys State.
Romano is a member of the Whitley County Historical Society board of directors, has served as a counselor at Camp Whitley and a presenter at the Whitley County Historical Society’s Civil War Camp. Additionally, he volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
What he wants to bring to the table
Romano said the most important issue in Whitley County is maintaining the budget. He feels that it’s necessary to evaluate government spending and find solutions for bettering Whitley County programs.
Decisions being made today will impact future generations, he said.
“We need someone at the table making those decisions so that everyone’s best interests are in place,” he said.
He also wants to encourage members of the community to get involved in the local political process and find solutions with the help of local government.
In March, Romano began campaigning door-to-door, starting with his neighborhood. Between houses, he said that you’d think neighbors would be easier constituents to campaign to, but in reality, they ask the toughest questions because they feel comfortable putting him on the spot.
And he’s OK with that.
“When I’m on the campaign trail, that’s what I want to hear,” he said. “I want to hear the problems that you have. What changes or solutions do you have for issues in local government? What can we do to make a difference?”
He also wants to encourage young people to engage in the political process — from registering to vote as soon as they are eligible to researching candidates and becoming an active voice in shaping local government through voting and dialogue.
“We live in an a day and age when we can see decision making happen live and can have an active voice in it,” he said.
Overcoming an image
When Romano tells people he’s running for office, a lot of people don’t believe him at first.
“I just think that’s really unfortunate. I think that it should be the norm to have people of all ages running for different offices in government,” he said.
Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel encountered the same obstacle when he ran for the office as a 26-year-old.
When he was elected in 2015, at the age of 27, he became the second youngest mayor in the city’s history and the second youngest mayor in the state at that time.
“When you’re a 26-year-old in a community that has typically had 55-plus-year-olds being mayor, there’s certainly a little bit of a hurdle that you have to get over,” he said.
“When someone says ‘mayor,’ they don’t think of a 27-year-old, red-headed kid. They think about a graying man of some sort.”
The biggest challenge for young candidates is overcoming this image, he said.
Romano will turn 18 in August, making him eligible for the county council seat. He must register to vote and be 18 years old by the general election to vote or run for election.
One of the first questions Whitley County residents ask Romano is, “What are your plans after graduation?”
Indiana University in Bloomington is among his options, but whatever plans he commits to, he wants voters to know that he plans on staying close enough to make it back for council meetings or if duty calls.
“Ultimately, Whitley County is my first concern,” he said.
Information and updates on Romano’s campaign can be found on Facebook at https://m.facebook.com/James-Romano- Whitley-County- 172034773405690/; on Instagram @JamesRomanoOfficial; and on Twitter @JRomanoOfficial.