Amir Zendehnam passionately supports marijuana legalization, same-sex marriage, abortion rights and the Republican Party.
He is not alone. The 26-year-old aspiring restaurateur and chairman of the party's West Los Angeles central committee is one of a raft of ethnically diverse young libertarians who hold seats in L.A. County’s huge GOP apparatus, injecting youthful energy into its operations at a time when the state’s Republican Party is nearly moribund.
After winning control the executive board of the Los Angeles County Republican Party in December 2012, the “Liberty Kids,” as they call themselves, are seeing the fruits of their activism. This year one of their own is running as the Republican nominee for Congress from the San Gabriel Valley, with Zendehnam serving as policy adviser.
The Liberty Kids are challenging the party's social conservatives and are drawing the attention of Democrats, who see liberal youth as part of their base. And in what could be a harbinger for the GOP, they have begun campaigning in other states, aiming to increase their influence beyond California.
"I want you to look around the room," Zendehnam said at a meeting last week, "because this is what the face of the Republican Party is going to look like."
The Liberty Kids hold four of seven seats on the local party's governing board and dozens of spots on its 200-person central committee, representing a county that is home to 10 million people.
Raised during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and excited by the non-interventionist philosophy of Ron Paul, the former Texas congressman and presidential contender, many registered as Republicans to vote for Paul in the 2008 and 2012 presidential primaries and then stayed on in the party.
The group is making its presence felt as the GOP struggles to reinvent itself in California, where Republicans make up 29 percent of registered voters and Democrats control both houses of the legislature and all statewide offices.
"The party is a little bit out of touch, and they need a fresh view of things," said Calvin Lee, 27, whose strategy helped spur the Los Angeles board takeover after the party's losses in the 2012 elections.