On Jan 8, State Representative Yeulin Willet announced he would not seek re-election to House District 54. Concurrently, former Colorado Mesa University student and Delta, Colo. resident Matt Soper announced his candidacy to run for Willet’s seat. It has been 54 years since the last time a Delta resident won the House seat.
House District 54 encompasses all of Mesa County aside from Grand Junction and also includes Delta. According to Soper, the location of most of the district is the reason for a lack of Delta resident representatives.
“Any time you take on history, it’s really challenging, and there’s a reason why no one has been elected living in Delta for over half a century, and it’s because the population is in Mesa County,” Soper said. “So if you have had a career in Mesa County, it’s a lot easier to get elected than if you are in Delta.”
Soper is no stranger to facing difficult odds. As a Delta High School student, his first taste of politics came when he ran for student body president; a campaign where he was the unpopular underdog. Soper likened the experience to the movie “Napoleon Dynamite.”
“I definitely was Napoleon Dynamite,” Soper said. “I took on the most popular girl in school to run for student body president and I catered my campaign for the artists, the skateboarders, the Hispanic students, the jocks and even broke it down to the tennis players, the football players, the volleyball players, and I won in a landslide.”
As a political science major with a business minor, Soper continued his involvement in student politics at Colorado Mesa University. He began as the Montrose campus senator and later became a student trustee.
Because of a tied election, Soper and his opponent Reggie Norman, an African American, made Colorado history by serving the office together.
As part of their sharing office, the two trustees made an impact on the university through the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. As Caucasian and African American students that came together to fill one position, they wanted to focus on coming together as students and as a nation.
“We recognized it’s not good enough just to have the holiday and we started a celebration on campus,” Soper said. “We needed to be able to celebrate what Dr. King was fighting for, celebrate diversity and coming together and that we are all one. We’re all one nation even though we have many different backgrounds, we have many different perspectives. There’s many things that we can fight for together.”
Soper stated that his time at CMU prepared him for his political career. The connections he made through clubs, student government and the community are paying off now and he recommended current students take advantage of every opportunity during their education at CMU. Soper pointed out that education is not just found in books.
“Education is found by being part of clubs and social activities. You have to network with your peers and classmates and even the greater community,” Soper said. “If you’re in college and thinking about going into politics, test all your ideas in college. You will be forgiven for them later on if you’re wrong. You’ll be enhanced if you happen to be right.”
As far as his own future is concerned, Soper is only focused on state legislature without concern about moving up later.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily good to always be looking for the next office. I think that creates poor elected officials,” Soper said. “I want to be somebody that promotes good public policy and if that means just serving one or two terms in the House of Representatives, but I’ve made a positive impact for the people of House District 54, Western Colorado and Colorado as a whole. I’ve done my job and I’m willing to go back fully into the private sector and continue my life.”
The main concerns Soper wants to address after gaining office are taking measures to prevent water shortage and improving transportation.
“Any student that has to commute to and from Montrose or Delta to class here at CMU knows just how bad the roads are,” Soper said.
Soper views character as a major reason for his success thus far. Rather than taking advantage of people, he stated that he was always the kind of person that was caring and compassionate.
“You can’t take good character away from a person,” Soper said. “It’s from character that I got here.”
The upcoming election will determine if character and connections within the community will help Soper overcome history and become the first Delta resident in over fifty years to be elected to represent District 54.