Caucusing with Iowa's Very Young Mayor

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Sam Juhl, the 20-year-old mayor of Roland, Iowa, will caucus for the first time Thursday.

ALISON STEWART, host:

So what were you doing when you were 19? Did it involve running a large political entity? I didn't think so. Imagine being just barely legal, your mother being killed, and now you have to take her place as the head of a political party. It happened to a student at Oxford: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. He's not lived in Pakistan since he was a young boy, but was named the ceremonial leader of the PPP last week.

Maybe you can't imagine that kind of responsibility, but there's a person here in the states under the legal drinking age who can kind of relate. He took charge of an entire town at the age of 18. Sam Juhl was elected mayor of Roland, Iowa, days after his 18th birthday. Now at the ripe old age of 20, he just ran for a second term and won. And to top it all off this week, he'll be participating in his first caucus.

Mayor Sam Juhl, thanks for joining us. Hi, Mr. Mayor.

Mayor SAM JUHL (Roland, Iowa): Hello.

STEWART: So Sam, what was - can I call you Sam?

Mayor JUHL: Yeah, that's fine.

STEWART: Okay. So what was your first reaction from people during your first term? People's first reaction to you when they realized that you, a teenager, were the mayor?

Mayor JUHL: I thought their first reaction was pretty good. I thought I received a good level of support from people in the community.

STEWART: What was the first question they asked you?

Mayor JUHL: Oh, I don't remember.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Well, of all your duties, which has been the most challenging to you because of your age?

Mayor JUHL: I'd say the most challenging is just getting over that initial shock that, you know, you're actually here and you've managed to get into that position. Maybe in - the biggest challenge was getting respect from some people. Maybe - I don't - didn't think about that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: So what did you think about when you decided to run for mayor of this town? What was your intention? What was your motivation?

Mayor JUHL: Well, I was at a friend's house, and one of my friend's fathers is a city employee. And the city clerk was over, and she mentioned, you know, well, it looks like nobody is going to be running for mayor again. And I decided, you know, I'll do it. And my motivation there was, you know, I've always been politically active. And I decided, you know, I should take this to the next step. And because I didn't want Roland to be on the news again for not having anybody running for office.

MIKE PESCA, host:

So who - how did it work? The town just didn't have a mayor? Or…

Mayor JUHL: Well, they appoint somebody. The city council then appoints somebody to the job. They'd find someone willing to do it who wasn't willing to run.

PESCA: Is it like an unpaid job and it gets lots of hassle for the…

Mayor JUHL: It gets paid. I haven't experienced a whole lot of hassle.

PESCA: Okay.

Mayor JUHL: I mean, you'll have the occasional call about a dog or a neighbor burning leaves or, you know, they need to have roads cleared off faster. Or - but…

STEWART: So Sam, when you were campaigning, how did you answer this question? Because it had to come up. When somebody said, hey, so what makes you think you're old enough and have enough experience to be the mayor of a town?

Mayor JUHL: Well, my answer there was that while experience is valuable, it's not always necessary. I mean, the fact that I'm younger doesn't mean that I might not have a new perspective to offer to something.

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

Mayor JUHL: And that may be sometimes we get in that rut of demanding experience, and we punish ourselves because we don't give the person that might have a different way of looking at things a chance.

STEWART: Now, I know you balance school and you have part-time job. What is it?

Mayor JUHL: I'm a valet parking attendant at the local hospital.

STEWART: All right. So you're in school, part-time valet parker, mayor of a town. How are you balancing these all? Like what's a portion of your day?

Mayor JUHL: I've just always been busy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor JUHL: I mean, I don't know. The minute I hit high school, I was in, you know, band, chorus, the debate team…

STEWART: Running the town.

Mayor JUHL: …(unintelligible), paper boy.

PESCA: Do you think some of the people whose cars you park ever give you an extra big tip because they want their driveways cleared?

Mayor JUHL: We actually aren't allowed to take tips.

PESCA: That's the worst valet job I've ever heard of.

STEWART: Wait. As mayor, you're not allowed to take tips, or as a valet, you're not allowed to take tips?

Mayor JUHL: Well, both, because the hospital is a public institution. So we can't take over $3.

STEWART: Hey, on a serious note, I mean, obviously, you're a politically active person and - young man, and you watch the news. When you saw that Benazir Bhutto's son was taking over the entire political party, what did you think? What went through your mind?

Mayor JUHL: I wasn't all that shocked. I mean, I think it was a good move. And I remember when a couple of weeks ago, when Benazir Bhutto had said, you know, my security is not good enough and something might happen to me. So she probably thought about who would succeed her in the event that she was killed. And it was probably a good decision. She knew she (unintelligible).

STEWART: But from his point of view. I mean, you're roughly the same age that he is.

Mayor JUHL: Yeah, close.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor JUHL: I'm not going to Oxford, though.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Or Pakistan.

STEWART: Hey, before I let you go, I understand you're taking part in your first caucus tomorrow?

Mayor JUHL: Yup.

STEWART: So what are you anticipating? What are you excited about it?

Mayor JUHL: Well, I'm just excited because, I mean, that's the neatest thing about living in Iowa is everyone's kind of jealous because we get the first say. And I'm looking forward to it. I like the attention. It can get kind of annoying when you'll have four commercials in a row that are all for presidential candidates, or you'll get called five times a day by the same campaign. But I'm excited just because I want to be a part of the process.

STEWART: And are you leaning towards any one candidate so far? Has anybody…

Mayor JUHL: Well…

STEWART: …really impressed you?

Mayor JUHL: I'm probably going to either caucus for Kucinich or Edwards.

PESCA: Oh.

STEWART: And have you gotten to meet any of the candidates yet?

Mayor JUHL: I actually have not. My parents have all gone to see Barack Obama, and my sister's seen, I think, almost all of them. But I've been too busy to get around to see any of them.

STEWART: You are the mayor after all. And you've got a job, and school. Hey, Mayor Sam…

PESCA: And cars to park.

STEWART: Exactly. Mayor Sam Juhl of Roland, Iowa - population what?

Mayor JUHL: 1, 324.

STEWART: Sam Juhl, thanks for spending some time. We appreciate it.

Mayor JUHL: Well, thanks for having me.

STEWART: Have a good time tomorrow.

Mayor JUHL: Thanks.

PESCA: I thought when Sam was going on his experience or his freshness spiel, he was an Obama guy.

STEWART: I thought a little bit, too, yeah.

PESCA: Jared Sandberg's coming here with some tips on how to be a better officemate, because, people, you're making miserable mistakes. You need to stop microwaving salted cod.

(Soundbite of music)

PESCA: It's coming up on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

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