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Moppet and Policy Wonk Make Potent Combination

Lily Thorpe founded the Kids Campaign group to champion children's issues.

July 11, 2004|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — Lily Thorpe, the newest player on Colorado's political landscape, was making a key point about education policy when she called over her mother and spit gum into her hand.

Then she finished her thought.

"The No Child Left Behind law is good, but kids are still left behind," Lily said. "President Bush didn't put enough money in to fund the law. He said no kids should be left behind, but he didn't fund tutors or books."

Lily, wearing pink-and-white sneakers with smiley faces on the laces, sat on the edge of her chair. She suddenly looked bored and began walking around the room, doing little skips and kicks.

"Do you know I have a doll signed by Marie Osmond?" she asked.

Such is the mercurial world of Colorado's youngest politico. Lily, 10, is founder of Kids Campaign, a political action committee dedicated to raising awareness about children's issues. Since starting the PAC in February, the self-possessed fifth grader has become a minor celebrity, traveling around the state collecting money, meeting politicians and giving speeches.

Colorado Secretary of State Donetta Davidson said the 3-foot-11, 52-pound Lily was the youngest leader of a PAC in the state, and probably the nation.

"I certainly haven't heard of anyone younger," Davidson said. "Unlike many other states, Colorado doesn't have age limits on who can run a political action committee."

Lily has a team of advisors who make sure she's following proper election laws, but there is little doubt who's in charge.

"I founded it, so I guess I'm the boss," she said.

Lily started the campaign after trying to research a class project and finding that the school encyclopedias were 14 years old. She then discovered her school had just one part-time tutor for 500 students, and a fraying infrastructure.

"I realized our voices didn't really matter," she said. "When people are voting, the kids are left out."

So she started Kids Campaign. Shortly after, Lily opened an office across the hall from her family's bail bond business in this dusty town on Colorado's western border.

The walls are covered top to bottom with newspaper articles, flags and political campaign signs.

"The first thing I do when I come in is spray the air freshener, then start clipping the newspaper," said Lily, wearing red, white and blue bows in her hair. "I read the articles, especially those about me, and I read the comics."

The blue-eyed activist alternates between playful moppet and policy wonk. One minute she's grimly discussing teen suicide, the next she's gushing about a new line of dolls. Outgoing letters are stamped with lucky shamrocks.

As head of her own political organization, Lily said, she tries to be nonpartisan.

"The Bush campaign is yada, yada, yada. Bush is great, yada, yada," she said, mocking grown-up partisan discourse. "The Kerry campaign is yada, yada, yada. Kerry is great, yada, yada."

Then she carefully thinks out her own views.

Same-sex marriage?

"If they really like each other and are happy together ... " she paused. "But then again, the Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman. But if they are really, truly happy together it's, like, their choice."

Roger Green, a local attorney advising Lily, said the PAC wanted to steer clear of giving individual candidates money, preferring instead to endorse those it thought best supported children's issues.

"The goal is to educate politicians about these issues and to educate children and parents on how to influence politicians," he said. "I think this has national implications. Children's issues are not just in Colorado. This PAC could be a catalyst for other groups."

The group has raised $1,000, mostly from local political candidates, community organizations and businesses. The money will be used to publicize children's issues.

Craig Meis donated $25.

"It's pretty funny when you have all of these big politicians in a room, and she comes and steals the show," said Meis, who is running for Mesa County commissioner. "She's probably more direct than most politicians. I think she is a force because of all the attention she has gotten."

Those pushing causes try to enlist Lily's support, knowing she's a camera magnet.

"She has a pretty strong will and is well-grounded," said her mother, Maria Thorpe. "She has no problem saying no."

Lily proceeded to recite "no" repeatedly until her mother told her to cut it out.

As she tries to determine whom to endorse, Lily has drawn up a questionnaire asking local candidates where they stand on children's issues. She has photocopied their answers and handed them out at a Grand Junction mall, where she has set up a table and urges people to vote. Sometimes she naps under the table.

"If they did something for kids before they ran for election, you might think they are being more honest when they say they will do something for kids when they get elected," she said.

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