A Colorado lawmaker said he meant well, but to the sometimes homeless teenager who testified on a bill in his JROTC uniform, it felt like retribution.
Wednesday Auontai “Tay” Anderson, an 18-year-old student from Denver’s Manual High School, testified in favor of House Bill 1314, the failed “right to rest” legislation to ban urban camping and keep police from forcing homeless people to move along from public spaces.
Anderson wore his Junior ROTC uniform to testify, as he’s done before at the Capitol. He meant no protest or political message, he said Thursday.
Wednesday is the day cadets wear their uniforms to school, and he had no clean laundry to change into to go to the Capitol, he said. Anderson wore the nicest thing he had.
Thursday morning, Rep. Hugh McKean, a Republican lawmaker from Loveland, sent an e-mail to the school’s two Junior ROTC instructors Thursday:
I wanted to inform you that one of your students, dressed in uniform, was a visitor to the Capitol today. It was a pleasure to meet Mr. Anderson and welcome him to the House of Representatives. I was concerned, however, that he made an appearance in our Local Government Committee hearing this afternoon in his Class A’s. I assume that this was not an appearance endorsed by the school and so wanted to make sure you had the chance to inform him of your policy concerning use of the JROTC uniform.
One of the instructors told McKean in the e-mail chain he had spoken with Anderson about the breach of protocol, and Manual High principal Nick Dawkins added. “No discipline. We just made him aware. I also let him know you said it was a pleasure to hear him speak. He smiled at that.”
Anderson is no typical teenager. He announced this month he plans run for the Denver Public Schools Board of Education. He is Manual High’s student body president and chairs the Colorado High School Democrats.
Back at the Capitol Thursday, he wore a dress polo. Without sounding angry or indignant, he said McKean could have spoken to him directly during breaks before and after he spoke.
“It didn’t feel like he wanted to help me,” Anderson said. “It felt like he wanted to get me in trouble.”
McKean voted against the bill. Anderson testified for it. McKean said that wasn’t an issue at all.
McKean said Thursday he meant no harm or offense and said he hoped Anderson continues to pursue public service.
“Part of JROTC and these other things is a simple understanding of what that means,” the lawmaker said. “Especially at young ages, it’s OK to give one of those gentle reminders of ‘just so you know,’ and most people there wouldn’t know unless they had a kid in JROTC.”