Seth Mays’ path to serving as chairman of the Arkansas Federation of College Republicans started when he arrived ahead of schedule for a final exam during his freshman year at Arkansas Tech University.
“Being a freshman I was there 30 minutes early,” said Mays. “Dr. (Brendan) Toner told me he had received this e-mail about an internship with Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin. He knew I was a Republican from conversations we had and since I was chairman of the Arkansas Tech College Republicans, so he asked me if I would be interested. I said yes, and the rest is history.”
The internship led to an opportunity with the Republican Party of Arkansas. That led to a role as communications director for the Arkansas Federation of College Republicans, which in turn led to Mays’ election to lead College Republicans in Arkansas during the 2016-17 academic year.
“The common trait I see among leaders is that they are someone who was interested in an area and maybe didn’t ever dream they would be a leader in that area,” said Mays, an ATU junior political science student from Mansfield. “They just wanted to get involved, and they kept doing it and doing it, and one day they look back and realize where they are. If you just get involved, it becomes a natural process. But you’re not going to get very far if you never start.”
Mays’ start in the Office of the Lieutenant Governor was less than glamorous at times, but it taught him valuable lessons.
“Being willing to get involved and do the work is an important skill,” said Mays. “Some days aren’t going to be fun. There were plenty of days when I walked into the Lieutenant Governor’s office and all I did was answer phones and do constituent work. Lt. Gov. Griffin’s policy was that it didn’t matter what the issue was, if someone wrote in we answered. Someone has to be willing to deal with that case work that no one else is dealing with. You can’t expect awesome opportunities to fall in your lap if you haven’t put in the work to earn them. That was a big lesson my mentors Kelsi Bodine Daniell and Annamarie Atwood taught me.”
In his role as chairman for the Arkansas Federation of College Republicans, Mays earned opportunities to make three visits to Washington, D.C., during the first three months of 2017.
He attended the inauguration of President Donald Trump in January before returning to participate in conferences of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) in February and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March.
“It has broadened parts of the world I have seen,” said Mays, who had never visited the nation’s capital before this year. “It has reinforced a lot of what I believe. I have become better informed, and I can better vocalize why we believe this on this issue.”
Mays has been involved in Student Government Association, Presidential Leadership Cabinet, Pacesetters and Residence Hall Association at Arkansas Tech. His interactions with fellow students and with faculty members have brought him into contact with a variety of opinions on issues of the day, and he finds that to be a good thing.
“Being challenged reinforces my beliefs,” said Mays. “It helps me prepare better arguments. Those interactions have made me a better leader, because even those who agree with me will play devil’s advocate and give me a different point of view. I really like that. When I really want to get a view of an issue I don’t go to conservative voices. I go to sources that are far left of center and who proudly own it. I love going to those sources because they help me understand why they believe what they believe.
“One thing I dislike about politics,” continued Mays, “is this idea that ‘you are only right if you hold my position, and if you hold any other opinion you are dishonest in that position.’ I do really understand how someone who is different from me gets to that position. For me, as a conservative person, that back and forth is healthy. I wouldn’t want to go to a place that didn’t challenge what I believe.”
Mays plans on pursuing a career in the political realm after his graduation from ATU in May 2018, but don’t plan on seeing his name on a ballot anytime soon. He said he prefers to work behind the scenes, at least for the time being.
As he goes on that journey, he will look back on the opportunities he earned while a student at Arkansas Tech as his launching point.
“I remember looking at these other people when I got there, and I felt like I was the runt of the litter,” said Mays, thinking back to his first day in Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin’s office. “The biggest day of the summer was when we were editing the final recommendations from the Governor’s Council on Common Core Review. I remember that day, it was a big day and everything had to go right. They selected the intern from Emory University and me to be there that day, not the other interns from Fayetteville and Little Rock. If you get in there, work hard and get involved with the process, you’ll be amazed where it might take you regardless of where you come from.”