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Young Activist Has Eyes Set On 2016

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Caitlyn Caruso may only be a college freshman, but she has already done more political work than some seasoned veterans.

As a high school student, she worked as a lobbyist in Carson City during the 2015 Nevada legislative session.

She has advocated for a stronger sex education program in Clark County public schools.

And she shows no signs of slowing down.

With primary elections coming up, we wanted to check in with Caruso to see what she has been up to since last summer, and what's next for her.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

Do you have relationships with lawmakers you contacted in 2015?

Some of them definitely. I mean, I’m not having pasta with Michele Fiore in the afternoon. Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz, Assemblywoman Heidi Swank. -- all these people I met over the duration of the legislative session, I still speak to. I have [them] on Facebook. They reach out to me all the time. It’s really lovely.   

Is the tax hike approved by the Legislature to pay for education enough?

It’s never enough. I’m of the personal belief that we need to get rid of the school choice law [the Education Savings Account law] that is currently being blocked in the state courts. It’s not going to solve our problem, which is underfunded public education. We also need to be working on the local level to make sure the money is going where it needs to be.

One thing you lobbied against was the campus-carry bill, which would have allowed people with a concealed weapon permit to bring their gun on school campus. That bill didn’t get passed, but do you think it will return?

I feel a little more hopeful now that Assemblywoman Michele Fiore is not returning to the State Assembly. It doesn’t ease my mind entirely. I’m almost certain it will raised again next legislative session.

That was Fiore’s big push that women could protect themselves if they had a gun. Do you agree with that?

No, I think this is furthering this idea of victim blaming. We’re saying young women have to carry guns to protect themselves from men who are innate rapists, rather than saying to men, "Here’s the education you need so that you don’t rape, so you don’t sexually assault young women." We’re putting all the blame on young women to protect themselves.

When Vice President Joe Biden came to town, you got to speak with him?

Oh my gosh! It was such a wild experience. It was a really fast week. I was contacted by the White House staff to come and speak before he took the stage to share my story. I got to share my story before a couple hundred of my peers, which was wild. Then afterward, he sat me down and talked to me about the work he’s been doing to prevent sexual assault all across the country.

This is the first year you can vote. So what do you think? And what did you learn in the past year about the process?

It definitely compelled me to learn more to want to ask questions to these people who are running for elected office. I’m not going to skate on past without pressing the hard questions, without asking, "What are you actually going to do?" So, I definitely know who I’m not voting for who are incumbents. I definitely know who I can trust to really fight for young people and fight for the issues that are important to me. I definitely know the platforms that I stand firm on and the issues I really feel strongly about.

Who are you not voting for?

I live in Congressional District 3. And I’m definitely not voting for Michele Fiore or Michael Roberson. Last legislative session they were the biggest proponents of campus-carry. And Michele Fiore… we did not have the best experience and she called Capitol Police on me for trying to share my story as a sexual assault survivor [while we were] in the bathroom -- we were both washing our hands.

Are there people on the school board that you would like to see defeated this November?

I want to see someone challenge Patrice Tew specifically. Trustee Patrice Tew has been difficult on issues of sex education in the past. I want to see Trustee Deanna Wright on the local level get elected back in because she has always been a really strong proponent.

Would you consider running for office?

I would definitely think about it. I’m not crossing it out or saying no immediately. But I do know I do feel better on the other side of the table really lobbying and influencing the politicians. I feel more comfortable on that side of the table, but that’s not to say I won’t be sitting in the decision-making chair one day.

Your most important issue next session is ... ?

All of them? I’m definitely going to push for more comprehensive sex education. I don’t want to see campus-carry. There’s a lot of things I don’t want to see for sure. But I’m going to be back up in Carson City. I'm thinking of transferring to UNR for the legislative session and moving up there just to be there 24/7 in their faces all the time!  

What drives you?

I think what drives me is seeing other young people feel like their voices don’t matter. They don’t have a voice. They don’t feel like they have a voice and I want to help amplify their voices. 

Caitlyn Caruso, political activist

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Casey Morell is the coordinating producer of Nevada Public Radio's flagship broadcast State of Nevada and one of the station's midday newscast announcers. (He's also been interviewed by Jimmy Fallon, whatever that's worth.)