When political decisions are made, college students are among the most impacted groups. Economic decisions affect the job market that students will enter after they graduate. Social decisions impact the rights that students have as young adults. College students are always impacted by politics, but few enter the field while still in school.
Hannah Beer ’20 is an exceptional case. This past March, she stunned Normal by defeating longtime McLean County Board member George Gordon in the Democratic primary election. Gordon served on the County Board for six terms and spent decades teaching in the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State. In November, Beer will face Libertarian candidate David Scarpelli in the general election.
In District 6, which includes the Illinois State campus and most student apartments, Beer secured 65% of the vote in the primary election. Beer is the first Illinois State student to win a County Board primary election in District 6.
“I feel like (students) have an important voice that needs to be heard,” said Beer, who graduated in May after majoring in political science and minoring in history. “I felt like they weren’t being represented and I feel like I could do a really good job connecting with students and being an advocate for them as much as I can.”
Beer’s victory came as a shock to many, even herself, she admits. The circumstances brought on by coronavirus (COVID-19) stifled voter turnout. Before spring break, a large part of Beer’s campaign strategy was spending time on campus, connecting with her fellow students, and encouraging them to vote.
After spring break, everything changed with the University moving to online classes. Many students were no longer in town, and social distancing requirements put an end to Beer’s grassroots strategy. “I was like, ‘There’s no way that I’m going to win; there’s no students here,’” Beer said. “It’s crazy that I actually was able to win.”
Beer worked on other election campaigns throughout her time at Illinois State, including Illinois State alumna Nikita Richards’ 2018 campaign for McLean County clerk. However, Beer’s current County Board campaign is her first time in the driver’s seat.
A self-proclaimed history buff, Beer always had an interest in politics, but did not get involved until she arrived at Illinois State in 2016. “I came to ISU as a history major, and I added political science right before the 2016 election in November,” said Beer, who is from St. Charles. “I kind of just jumped into it. I blinked, and then it was my whole entire life.”
After discovering her passion for politics, she became involved on campus with the College Democrats and eventually became the College Democrats of Illinois’ legislative director. She also spent two years with the Student Government Association and became a senator, spearheading an initiative to increase voter registration on campus.
Coming across College Democrats was a pivotal moment in Beer’s political career. “I met this whole group of people that have become my closest friends,” said Beer. “Whenever someone’s going to do something in the political world, we’re all behind that person. We all work as a team.”
Beer’s classes further motivated her to get involved in politics. One of Beer’s closest mentors at Illinois State was Erik Rankin, director of enrollment management and undergraduate studies for the Department of Politics and Government.
“For years, I have been preaching in class that students must get involved in the political system to ensure their voice is heard,” said Rankin. “In very few cases, has any student really taken this seriously. Hannah did. She saw an opportunity and took a leap of faith.”
Beer is focused on ensuring that underrepresented voices are heard. “It’s so cliche, but I want to change the world,” said Beer. “There are so many problems facing our country and facing our world. I just want to do anything I can to make it a better place than it was when I first started.”
Rankin is proud of Beer’s accomplishments and urges more students to follow her lead. “She has a passion to serve others and truly wants to be of help to all people,” said Rankin. “This world, right now, needs more Hannahs to step up and take ownership for this country’s future.”
In the face of complex issues, Beer remains hopeful for the future and takes things one step at a time. “Anything that I do, I just give it my all,” said Beer. “If I can even make one person happy or make one person’s situation better, that will make me feel so good.”
Explore opportunities to get involved in Illinois State student organizations at RedbirdLife.IllinoisState.edu.