Younger leaders are changing the public face of the Waldo County Republicans. As older party leaders have stepped down this year, two 30-somethings and a 21-year-old have stepped up into leadership positions.

Chairman Michael Cunningham, 31, of Waldo introduced himself to Republicans at their annual Spring Fling June 27, held at Waldo County Shrine Club in Belfast. The Waldo County Republican Committee affirmed his chairmanship earlier in June, after he, as vice chairman, assumed the position vacated by Raymond St. Onge, who resigned to devote more time to his family.

Cunningham, who grew up in Waldo County and attended local schools, is a veteran who served seven years in Italy with the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne infantry rapid response unit for Middle East, Africa and Asia. He was discharged 18 months ago with the rank of sergeant and has been working with the state Senate chamber staff while exploring other employment options.

Vice Chairman Adam Ratterree, 35, of Belfast worked the tables of guests before dinner, introducing himself and speaking of his hopes for growing membership and filling term-limited seats set to open up in the state Legislature. Texas-born Ratterree, who came to Belfast five years ago from Kansas City, owns and operates Custom Painting of Coastal Maine. He chaired the county's Trump for President in 2016 organization.

The party's new finance head, Alex Schiessl, 21, of Waldo, formerly of Brooks, works on the staff of Samoset Resort in Rockport. She introduced one of the evening's guest speakers, Abby Bennett of Oxford, a University of Maine senior recently elected secretary of the College Republican National Committee.

Bennett told the gathering, "The Republican Party can be the party of young people — the party and its ideals are the most representative of my generation.

"We are more prevalent on campus than we often realize," she said. "With 250,000 members across the country … and five times the number of social media followers (as college Democrats), college Republicans truly lead the millennial political realm. The Democrats would hate (knowing) that, because they're the 'party of technology.'"

Following Bennett's remarks, Cunningham declared, "Republicans are the real party of female empowerment."

On the state level, the GOP is also looking younger and more diverse. Keynote speaker Dr. Demi Kousounas, new state chairman, introduced herself as a dentist, a small businesswoman with two dental practices, in Scarborough and Skowhegan, and a graduate of the University of Maine and Tufts Dental.

"I'm a first-generation Greek American," she said. "I didn't know we (Republicans) were supposed to have a certain look, a certain way about us. So I thought, let's change that. Yes, we can be women. Yes, we can be young. Yes, we can be diverse. And we need to be the party of 'yes.'"

A look at the youthful, gender-diverse staff page of the state GOP website (http://www.mainegop.com/staff.html) suggests that Kousounas walks her talk.

One of those staff members, Kate Ikhsanova, state finance executive, told the Spring Fling's GOP faithful about a new Count Me In monthly contribution program, urging them all to pitch in to get the House and retain the Senate and Governor's Office. "And get Chellie out," she said. "That would be the cherry on top."

Rep. MaryAnne Kinney of Knox said she is "excited to have new young blood in this committee." She quickly sketched Republican achievements this session, including restoring the tip credit, and reviewed where the state budget stood at that point, which was still behind closed doors.

In an interview July 3, Cunningham spoke of his goals to build the party and drive up participation in Waldo County. "I'm going to knock on doors and meet Republicans," he said. "I want to connect Waldo County youth and younger adults to the party, teach them about civics, how to engage the government in a productive manner, how to be involved in work sessions in committee, and if you can't attend hearings, how to send in testimony — how to really connect with government.

"A lot of people are voting Republican who are not involved in the process; I want to change that, by driving up participation and, through that, helping people meet their needs," Cunningham said. "That's not done by flooding mailboxes and protesting; it's done by participating in hearings on bills that matter to you, and by giving testimony. That's where it counts."