Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 21, 2022

Faces Around Campus: Tyler Smith, political activist and campaigner

By Peter Sicher | November 19, 2009

Hopkins junior Tyler Smith has been in politics since the age of five - he spent his formative toddler years sealing and stamping envelopes for the current mayor of Seattle Greg Nichols.

"Back then, I was putting labels on envelopes and collecting paper from the printer," Smith said.This past summer, in keeping with his political inclinations, Smith spent the summer working as an intern for Constantine (D- Wash.)

When he was working on the campaign, Constantine was a county council member in King County (close to Seattle) and was running for the office of county executive.Smith was involved both in Constantine's official office and in his campaign.

"My job within the office included dealing with constituent case work but also delving into areas of policy research, particularly the budget, which was a major issue in this year's campaign," Smith said.

"More interestingly probably, my work on the campaign involved organizing volunteers and the logistics of a grassroots field campaign."

"We had to put together a pretty large voter contact operation, getting in touch with undecided voters, reaching supporters, identifying them, making sure they vote," he said.

It involved several phone banks spread throughout the county. We had to recruit volunteers each night, make sure they were there."

Since his early start in politics at age five, Smith has become more seriously involved in politics.

When he was 14 years old, he spent the summer in South Dakota working for the campaign of then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

"The thing about Tom, and we called him Tom, is despite at the time being the Democratic Majority Leader, is that he goes by his first name with the people of South Dakota, he's incredibly down to earth if you meet him and he's extremely helpful and always looking out for his staff and treating them with respect," he said.

"I think a good way to measure politicians is by the way they treat their staff. . . I met Daschle briefly and I've spoken to him a few other times."

"I've known members of his family, other people who have worked on his staff for a long time. They have the highest regard for him," he said.Smith also worked for Congresswoman Patty Murray (D- Wash.)'s reelection campaign in 2004. Murray is now the fourth-ranking member of the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives.

Constantine is also a longtime friend of Smith's family.

"I've known Dow for all my life. He's actually known me longer than I've known him since I was an infant at the time. He is a family friend," he said.

"He's been in elected office since I was six years old. I've seen his career advance at the same time I've grown up. I deeply respect his commitment to social justice and the environment."

He said that he thinks his experience with Dow did help get the internship with the campaign."I worked with Dow on a number of issues through the party. He knew me and I knew him," Smith said.

"I still submitted a formal application, I still met with his staff. They probably had to be brought on board."

"I think that my experience with Dow especially helped," he said.

"I don't mean to say getting the internship was easy because of that. I don't think my relationship with Dow was that close but he was aware of my work and I was aware of his, so it worked out."

The biggest issue in the campaign, in which Constantine ran against Susan Hutchinson, a Republican, was how King County would adapt to the recession.

"The biggest issue is probably something that no one here would be concerned about and that is the state of the county budget, balancing the county budget during an economic downturn." Smith said.

"But there are broader issues at stake too and that is how do we deal with an economic downturn, what are the trade-offs we need to make to deal with that. That's something we're dealing with at all levels of government throughout the country. How do we preserve human services or do we preserve human services in an economic downturn?" he asked.

Smith believes that many students at Hopkins are uninterested in politics, or apathetic. "I think the political life of a university is shaped by the interests of the people involved," Smith said.

"If you have a group of students whose primary interest is entering graduate school or entering a particular career, here typically in medicine or some type of research or engineering."

"You have a group of students who are probably less concerned with things that distract from that. I think Hopkins is a very intense academic environment, you have to work hard, you have to compete. That typically removes the energy and time available for politics," he said.

Smith is a history major. He believes that history provides a vital tool for understanding modern politics.

"History gives meaning to politics. History shapes politics. You can't understand politics without understanding the history of what you're doing. You can't understand how you got to the situation you are in today without understanding history," he said.

"History undergirds all the social sciences. Historical methods are key political sciences, to sociology, to many parts of economics, to anthropology and without those you can't possibly understand the world you're in today."

"The cliche is that those who forget history are bound to relive it," he said.

Despite his interest and activities in politics, Smith does not intend to make it his career."I don't think I'd make a career out of [politics] but I'd continue to be involved. I'm going to involved in the midterm elections coming up next year," he said.

"I absolutely would not run for public office. I think there are more effective ways to bring about political change but I have the utmost respect for people who do."

Smith advises students interested in working for campaigns to be take things slow."I think the best thing is to just be patient. You're not going to change the world overnight . . .Keep on doing what you need to do for whatever campaign you're working on at that time," he said.

"Just keep fighting. If you win you win and that's great. If you lose, you just move on to the next campaign."

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