When a kid came knocking on my door on a recent Sunday afternoon, I thought, "What now?"
My quaint little corner of suburbia, with its Bob-the-Builder dads and SUV-driving soccer moms, is a perfect penny-plucking location for solicitation: This team, that squad, a raffle I'll never win, the coupon packet I'll never use. The corner car wash.
"Yeah, whaddya want, kid?"
"Hi, I'm Jack Lento-Edrich. I'm running for Rocklin City Council."
It occurs to me his name would take up too much space on a bumper sticker.
I ask the obvious: "How old are you?"
I laugh and shake his hand warmly, delighted to see someone this young actually involved in the process. We stink at citizen participation, issue awareness I'll bet more of us complain about government than vote for it.
"It's encouraging to see a young man be engaged," said Scott Yuill, a council member and former mayor of Rocklin, who's an insurance agent in real life. "I don't know what winds his watch, but I applaud him for stepping up to do this."
The Rocklin High School senior stepped up after recessionary cuts ended two after-school programs in town, programs that were vital in his upbringing. His mom is a single parent who raised Jack and his brother since toddlerhood.
"I could not have worked full time if it weren't for those after-school programs," Eileen Lento tells me. "I didn't even realize my children had observed that, because Jack and I had not had that discussion. I was pretty sure both my children were generally unaware."
Kids, if they talk about politics at all, tend to mimic their parents, but this real-life experience became a different form of inculcation for Jack, one that apparently fostered a level of empathy for single parents and their kids. His other signature issues have a more familiar ring: pension reform, a revitalized downtown, lowering the cost of doing business in Rocklin.
He's got that last one down.
"I've spent maybe $100 so far on my campaign," he says, mostly for printed fliers. "My friends tell me I need more signs." That and a super PAC, maybe. Campaign signs hawking various City Council hopefuls typically dot front lawns in this bedroom community.
His "staff" consists of one classmate, Amanda Wong, who recently made her own headlines after opposing the ban of Stephen King's short story collection "Different Seasons" over a graphically depicted rape scene.
The fate of King's book remains in limbo as the district rethinks the ban.
"I don't like banning any literature," says Lento-Edrich. "I don't like censorship."
He tells me half his classmates say, "Vote Jack!" And half say, "I'm too young, I can't vote for you!"
Clearly lacking among the ballot measures: a proposition lowering the voting age to 16.
But most classmates think it's a novelty. "A lot of them don't even watch the news," Jack says.
So he canvasses old-fashioned retail politics. On his own, he studied the city charter, obtained the list of registered voters, knocks on their doors and doesn't leave a flier behind unless they ask him questions.
"What question do you most often get?" I ask.
"How old are you?"
"He doesn't want me to help him," says his mom, who went on to earn a doctorate and is an education strategist at Intel. "When we're in the supermarket, he's talking to people, asking if they're from Rocklin, asking their concerns."
And he's getting the drift of how politics works.
She tells me, "When Jack entered the race, you began seeing other candidates say things like, 'We need candidates with experience.' "
Right! Ignore the kid! He's a well, a kid.
Mom is indignant: "Really? When somebody is stepping up and wanting to be involved in their community, you're going to dissuade that? How can they learn about the process if they're not all brought into the dialogue?"
There's much to be said for institutional memory and experience in the practical realities of day-to-day life, but the point is made. Though Rocklin offers a Citizens Academy, a free, multi-week community education program where residents learn what it takes to run the city, it might do all of us well to take a turn serving in government so we not only respect the process but actually respect what it takes to make it work, maddening though that may seem.
I ask Jack: "Think you might want to make a career out of this?"
"Heck, I'm 18! I'm too young to know what I want to do with the rest of my life!" he exclaims.
Ah, an honest answer!
C'mon, a kid running for political office can't be any worse than the brats currently in office, can it? Have you seen our Legislature?