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New 1st district GOP chairman is a 19-year-old recent Albert Lea high school graduate

Aaron Farris began his involvement in GOP politics when he was 14.

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Aaron Farris. Contributed / Aaron Farris
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ALBERT LEA, Minn. — Last week, delegates at the GOP 1st Congressional District Convention elected a new chairman for their party.

His name is Aaron Farris. He is 19 years old, but he could pass for 16.

At least that's what people tell this youthful new spokesperson for the GOP 1st district.

Farris' election was the most headline-grabbing event to occur during last weekend’s gathering of GOP faithful in Mankato.

While the 300 or so delegates couldn’t decide on a congressional candidate to endorse for the open seat vacated by the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn, they voted overwhelmingly to elect a new chairman with a high school degree earned last year.

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Farris won the GOP chairmanship of the district, which encompasses 21 counties that stretch across southern Minnesota, with 82 percent of delegate votes, soundly defeating the current incumbent, Jerod Spilman.

While the historical record is spotty, Farris’ election may make him the youngest district chairman in the history of Minnesota politics.

Party chairmanships at the district level are key posts, but don’t typically garner much limelight. The media spotlight, however, has fastened on Farris and his story with a certain intensity.

“I figured people would probably make a big deal about me being elected chair, but I wasn’t quite expecting the volume,” Farris said.

So how did a 19-year-old seize the district’s top GOP post, which is responsible for getting GOP faithful to the polls and electing Republican candidates in southern Minnesota.

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His answer is simple: He put in the work. He campaigned hard for the post. He began laying the groundwork when he was 14.

“I started out making phone calls, knocking on doors – you know, the stuff that you need to do to campaign for candidates, but it’s not necessarily the most fun or glamorous thing to do,” Farris said. “I did it by doing some of the jobs that other people didn’t really want to do.”

By the time he showed up at last Saturday’s endorsing convention, Farris boasted a political resume of a seasoned pro.

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He was in his early teens when he worked as an intern for Jeff Johnson’s run for governor in 2018; he was a member of the MNGOP field program and a volunteer for Rep. Jim Hagedorn’s campaign for four years until his passing earlier this year; he also has served as secretary and vice chair of the Freeborn County GOP.

There is more, but you get the drift.

Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, was a delegate at the convention and voted for Farris for party chairman. His youth may be people’s first impression upon meeting him, but his ability to connect with people is what stands out, Quam said.

“When someone is speaking, there’s that intangible connectivity to people. And he has that connectivity to people and sincerity,” Quam said.

Farris credits Hagedorn, who passed away last February from cancer, with developing his interest in 1st district politics and encouraging his ambitions to become a leader in the party.

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Aaron Farris, who was elected to the chairmanship of the GOP 1st Congressional District. Contributed / Aaron Farris
Contributed / Aaron Farris

Farris earned his real estate license after high school, owns a home and attends an online university. He said that when he is out knocking on doors, residents assume that he is a Democrat because of his youth until they learn otherwise.

The reception can then turn chilly if the homeowners are Democrats and they discover the fresh-faced youth before them is there to promote GOP candidates and ideas.

But Farris said his election explodes a myth some may have of the GOP as a party unwelcoming to young people. His election disproves that, and it’s a message he plans to carry into corners of the district that older, more wizened GOP operatives may struggle to communicate to young people.

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“I plan to bring more young people into the party by going places that the Republican Party typically has a problem going to,” he said.

Farris knows that he has his work cut out for him. Typically, elections for party chairmanships are held on odd-numbered years and are two-year terms. The first year for a new leader is usually spent getting acclimated to the district and formulating a plan for the election year.

But because of legislative redistricting, the rules required the election of a new chairman for a one-year term. Farris knows he doesn’t have the luxury of time. His election occurred one month before the May 24 special election primary to nominate party candidates for the Aug. 9 special election.

"Our biggest goal is to keep the (1st district congressional) seat in Republican hands in the special election in August and general election in November," he said.

Farris said his desire to be involved springs from a desire to make a better world.

“I've always been interested in civics and stuff like that for as long as I can remember,” Farris said. “And I’ve always just been someone who wants to help my community, make it better. When I’m 70 or whatever age, I want to look back and say, ‘I left this world in a better place.’”

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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