Bently Paiz, a 17-year-old New Braunfels high school graduate, will announce plans to take on incumbent Jason Hurta and run for New Braunfels City Council District 5 at today’s meeting of the Comal Young Democrats.
The meeting at Freiheit Country Store, 2157 FM 1101, New Braunfels, runs from 6-8 p.m. and is open to the public.
Paiz is hot off the campaign trail with 28-year-old Claudia Zapata, who failed in her bid to unseat incumbent Chip Roy, U.S. representative for Texas’s 21st congressional district, in the November midterms.
The loss did not dissuade Paiz from his own plans to pursue a political future.
It energized him.
Paiz said former state Sen. Wendy Davis, who he invited to speak at Friday’s meeting, will focus on how to make a positive community impact and get more youth involved.
Her message is very different from the one he’s hearing from the Comal County Democratic Party. Staff asked him to leave its headquarters on W. San Antonio Street Thursday.
Since exiting the Texas Senate Davis said she’s worked very hard to help encourage the next generation of leaders to step forward and own their power.
“Texas is getting younger and younger and yet the values of our young people aren’t being reflected in decisions that are being made,” she said. “…When I met Bently I was just so struck by his idealism and his determined approach to bring the voices of young people he represents forward.”
Paiz said he parted ways with local Democratic party officials because they waste political capital on national issues like abortion and the border. He wants area Democrats to focus on local infrastructure issues like the lack of bus transportation (“mobility issues”) in Comal Town, the mainly Hispanic part of New Braunfels where he lives, and threats to the environment.
In an interview today, Paiz said his campaign also will focus on New Braunfels’ water supply and that he will push for lowering the cost of living, developing clean energy sources and improving infrastructure.
Earlier this year he also split from the Comal County Young Democrats group, which he thinks defers too much to party officials.
Older Democrats, Paiz said, aren’t advancing a meaningful agenda.
“They don’t really support anyone, to be honest,” he said. “They’re there for their own focus and not really for anything else.”
Marilyn Aden, Democratic party chair, said Comal County Young Democrats will continue to engage with voter registrations and events and programs, “inspiring other young people to become more involved and interested in politics.
“Activation of the younger generation will help us elect better leaders, as the issues will affect their lives even more than those who are currently leading our political groups,” she said.
Meanwhile, Paiz is busy building other bridges, especially with younger Republicans like 27-year-old Canyon Lake resident D.J. Seeger, who heads the New Braunfels Young Republicans.
The two talk two to three times a week about politics and issues important to them.
“I would love to see a Texas where I think both parties are important, they lubricate the gears of Congress,” Seeger said. “The push-and-pull of the party system is good, but we still have to make an agreement at the end of the day, and I’m dreaming of a Texas where we can work together.”
Seeger and Paiz fit a growing national trend that does not bode well for the Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, who run political parties and elections in Comal County.
They are ‘Gen Z’ voters whose allegiance is to issues, not necessarily specific parties or candidates. Gen Z voters were born between 1997-2012 while Millennials were born between 1981-1996.
Nationwide, 27% of those who voted in the midterm election were Gen Z. In 2018, a record 30% of all voters were Gen Z.
In Texas earlier this month, younger voters accounted for only 15% of the vote. Some 65% of them voted for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke and 33% voted for Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott.
Tuft University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) says younger voters like these are increasing electoral participation, leading movements and making their voices heard on key issues that affect their communities.
“Young people proved once again that they’ll turn out to vote and impact election results, and their turnout in 2022 is one of the highest we’ve ever seen in a midterm election,” said Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Newhouse director of CIRCLE.
Red & Blue in Comal County
Seeger said negotiating is part of everyday life at Seeger Water, an irrigation company he owns.
“I learned growing up and in business today, there are always two sides to every story,” he said.
Republicans maintain tight control of all three branches of Texas government, but the state’s strict abortion laws could turn the red wave that failed to materialize in the November midterms into a red “firecracker” in the 2024 general election, Seeger said.
“How in anybody’s book is that even close to being a middle ground?”
As chairman of the Citizens Advisory Council for Hill Country Mental Health and Disabilities (MHDD) Center, Seeger is passionate about social programs that support the Canyon Lake community and 18 other surrounding counties.
“Mental health and developmental disabilities are viewed as liberal or left-leaning issues, and they’re not,” he said. “It’s a critical issue. The way I see it, the Democrats are on to something with the social programs they want. The Republicans are on to something by not wanting to increase taxes.”
Like Paiz, Seeger would like to see both parties stick to problems at home.
Supporting Ukraine in the war against Russia is important, but so are the homeless people on street corners in San Antonio or the woman having a mental breakdown on the side of the road, he said.
It irks him that Democrats like to be perceived as saviors of social justice. On the other hand, Republicans are too busy trying to enforce the 1950s American dream.
Seeger doesn’t understand why Abbott is obsessed with abortion and immigration and fringe issues, or why O’Rourke decided to “use” the families of the Uvalde shooting victims for political gain.
“If I asked 100 people (what they support) almost everyone is going to say my money, income and property taxes,” said Seeger, who is openly gay. “They’re not going to say ‘the boy who identifies as a girl can’t become a girl.'”
He said Comal County burns red but he’s worried about the New Braunfels area becoming the old “holdout” county.
“We don’t want to become the county that never modernizes and never adapts to a changing world,” Seeger said. “We are the fastest-growing county in the State of Texas, and that’s where everyone wants to be…We need to find a way forward that the Republican Party can be the party by the people, for the people, which means we represent common interests.”
Although he’s happy with older Comal Republicans like Party Chair Sue Piner, he thinks local Republicans should focus on economic growth.
“Over at Young Republicans, our big thing is the economy,” Seeger said. “Locally, we’re not focused on social issues or even abortion. Most of us are men in Young Republicans so that’s an issue that doesn’t impact us at all. In my opinion, I’ve always held the ground that what does it matter if someone is illegal or legal if the economy is tanked and everyone is tanked? If we fall apart economically it doesn’t matter anymore.”
Seeger said Gen Z voters face significant hurdles, like trying to decide whether it’s worth incurring $60,000 in college debt just so they can get a “mediocre” $45,000 per-year job or forgoing college to support a family and buy a house.
“Both decisions are an extraordinary risk,” he said. “For me, the economy is absolutely paramount.”
He’s sympathetic to the plight of the newly elected Carrie Isaac, a Republican who will represent Canyon Lake in Texas House District 73, and Texas State Senator Donna Campbell, the Republican who was re-elected to represent voters in District 21.
The lack of regulations for development in unincorporated Comal County, where Vulcan Materials wants to turn a scenic ranch into a 1,500-acre limestone rock quarry, are creating environmental concerns for residents who don’t want to breathe dust or deal with heavy traffic.
“I’m with everybody on that, at the same time, from a purely legal standpoint, are we really going to be the state that tells a property owner what they can or can’t do on their property so long as they’re complying with environmental regulations?”
Seeger, who makes and installs sprinkler systems, thinks licensing homebuilders might be a better way to help the environment.
There are large subdivisions without sewer systems because developers did not want to spend millions of dollars installing wastewater plants, he said.
“It’s a double-edged sword.”
Seeger said Campbell, a “powerhouse,” should make some kind of statement about the issues posed by Comal County’s rapid development — even if it’s not what people want to hear.
“Radio silence is a very bad tactic,” he said.
When she steps down, Seeger said he wants to run for her position.
In 2016 he tried to run as an independent against now Comal County Sheriff Mark Reynolds. He needed 500 notarized signatures to make the ballot but was 17 short before the filing deadline.
Seeger thinks Paiz should absolutely run.
“We certainly agree and feel the same sentiment that this upcoming Gen Z and younger millennials are the future of the State of Texas and the United States,” he said. “Our generation seems to be far more active in politics at a younger age as opposed to the older generations when they were younger.”
Gen Z and millennials don’t rely on parents and teachers for information, Seeger notes. They don’t have to check the news, they check Twitter. They can Google the names of county commissioners.
“The access to information has created an age where politicians have to be more thoughtful,” he said. “They have to be more intentional because you can’t take back anything you say now. Once you put it out there, it’s out there.”