After graduation, geography student sets his sights on a bigger political stage
UofL graduate Luke Thomas during his swearing-in ceremony as Perry County official in November 2018.
By Ira Green
“Ever since I was little, I have said that I either wanted to be an ice cream truck driver or president of the United States.”
Had Luke Thomas chosen the former, he would be fulfilling a dream that included bringing smiles to kids’ faces through frozen, sugary treats.
Instead, the summer prior to his senior year at the University of Louisville, Thomas was pulled in a different direction – and to an opportunity he couldn’t overlook.
On November 6, 2018, months after building and executing his campaign and balancing that with his schoolwork, Thomas became the youngest elected official in Perry County’s history, winning the District 3 seat on the county council.
While Thomas now is associated with a historical moment, it wasn’t a thought that crossed his mind at that point in his life.
“When I moved home for the summer in 2018, I was helping the local party leader and a couple of candidates with their own campaigns, gearing up for the general election in November,” Thomas said. “Out of what seemed nowhere, I was asked by our party leader if I had ever considered running for office because the party didn’t have anybody running in the county council seat in my district.”
The Tell City, Indiana, native scoffed at the notion at first. After some time and careful reconsideration, he changed his stance, thinking it was the perfect opening to help grow the community where he was born and raised.
Thomas has been active in and passionate about his community since high school, including assisting with the Youth Day of Caring, a one-day event in which volunteers help complete community projects, participating in three mission trips, and serving as an instructor for his high school’s marching band.
“My biggest hesitation about running, considering I was still a student, was time and commitment,” Thomas said. “It was the fall semester of my senior year, which meant I would be preparing my undergraduate thesis proposal, which I heard was a daunting task and was very time consuming.
“As I came to find out, the majority of the campaigning happened on the weekends, so although it was stressful managing school and the campaign, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
Thomas believes his education at UofL helped him reach this stage, dating back to one of his first classes in college, English 102, taught by Tim Roberts.
“We had to create a video that explained a concept in a minute, and mine concerned my hometown wanting to build another park when the ones we had were rundown and not well taken care of,” Thomas said. “The theme of the video became ‘Let’s fix what we have, because more isn’t always better.’ It was about wanting to take a step back and do things differently.”
His major, geography, with a concentration in urban and regional analysis, is a perfect fit for his current role in serving his community. The program was designed to prepare students for careers that involve urban planning, transportation, economic development and urban community organization.
Thomas also believes the degree, which he completes this month, has given him the ability to look through a different lens and aided him in his decision-making.
Beyond school, Thomas will dedicate much of his attention to his council term, which ends in 2022, and serving as vice president of the county council. After that, his sights are set on the national level.
“In the long-term, I think of being in either Indianapolis or Washington, D.C., and using my education from UofL and master’s in public policy to work in the political arena,” Thomas said. “I have always loved politics and living in the state or nation’s capital is something I would really like to do.”