WILLISTON — High school seniors at Trenton Public School filed into class with uncertainty when they were greeted by a new face. But the weariness soon gave way to young curiosity when the topic of politics was put onto the table.
Since Brandon Delvo announced his candidacy in February as the Democratic nominee for the District 2 legislative seat currently held by Burt Anderson (ND-R), he knew engaging the next generation of eligible voters would need to be one of his first stops during election season.
A show of hands revealed how few of the 18-year-olds intended to vote or knew anything about the candidates on a state and national level. They admitted confusion and frustration, which drew Delvo to take a chair and begin the conversation on the student’s eye-level.
Delvo asked opening questions about themselves, their families, and places they may have worked. Students bashfully mentioned employment at fast food restaurants, some of which said their income helped support their household.
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Delvo said with conviction. “You’re working when a lot of people aren’t...That’s nothing to be embarrassed of. It shows you’re trying and that’s important.”
Smarter than they gave themselves credit for, the students quickly flipped the inquiry back to Delvo and his story.
Delvo came from a lineage of immigrant farmers from Norway. From Bonetraill, located 30 miles northwest of Williston, he segued to his family’s long military history which could be traced back to the American Revolution.
His family answered the call to action when needed and when news of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 began reaching the rest of the country, Delvo joined the military without a second thought. He went on to serve over 500 missions in Iraq.
“We were the first 500 meters of foreign policy,” he said.
Along the trail of thought, question soon arose from the students, who were 3-years-old at the time of the attacks, about why troops were there.
“As an American soldier, I never sided Democrat or Republican then,” Delvo said. “I represented America as a whole — as a collective.”
After his tours concluded the ‘fifth-generation North Dakotan’ resumed life in his home state. His observation of politics in recent years tugged at innate need to protect his home turf which compelled him to run for the House seat.
“I drive by the Blacktail Creek (brine) spill site everyday,” Delvo said. “I started wondering why our elected officials weren’t holding people accountable.”
Impassioned about the paucity of mental, addiction, and behavioral health services on the western end of the state, Delvo was openly critical about the cuts in funding for veterans transportation whose options are to travel to Fargo or Bismarck. He told the students he was especially aggravated to find the governor’s office awarded staff bonuses the same week cuts to veterans services were made.
“These issues have a real face to them,” Delvo said. “There’s a single mother out there working two jobs to make ends meet and still trying to find time to read to her child at night. There’s families struggling.”
Now fully engaged, students requested to stay after class, which became an open Q&A session. Questions ranged from his experiences overseas to national politics, which drew a constant theme of distrust of Hillary Clinton.
The Q&A session over, Delvo was invited by the high school seniors for a game of ‘Four Square,’ a hybrid game of kickball and dodgeball. That spanned well into the afternoon.
“When JFK was inaugurated, he said ‘the torch has been passed to a new age of Americans,’’” Delvo said. “These students are our next generation...I think it's really important that they know what to expect and know that it’s okay to have an opinion or to disagree on political issues. They have a say. It starts with them; it really does.”