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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Finally of Age, First Gen Z Candidates Run for Congress

https://ift.tt/OZQ9hoz average age in the current U.S. Congress is 59—the oldest in history. But members of Gen Z, the eldest of whom is 25, are poised to change that.

“I didn’t run to be the first Gen Z member of Congress. I ran to serve my community,” says Maxwell Alejandro Frost, 25, the Democratic nominee for Florida’s 10th Congressional District.

“But being the first Gen Z member is an important part of the story. And I think it really shows that our country will hopefully move in a direction where we want to have our representative bodies actually be representative of the country, yes, in race, but also in age and experience,” he says.

Frost, who is running in a solidly Democratic district, is favored to win in November.

“I’ve been an organizer for the last 10 years and come from the generation that has been through more school shooting drills than fire drills,” Frost says. “And that’s really the perspective that I bring to the Congress. It’s the urgency around these issues.”

In New Hampshire, 25-year-old Karoline Leavitt is headed to the general election. The former Trump White House staffer, who won the Republican nomination for New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, hopes to flip the seat currently held by Democrat Chris Pappas.

If she wins in November, Leavitt, an anti-abortion conservative who has said the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, would become the youngest elected congresswoman.

“I got into this race with no name recognition, no money, but [with] a passion and a drive to fight for my home state of New Hampshire against the socialist Democrats who are destroying our country,” Leavitt said after winning the September 13 Republican primary. “The Washington establishment and the Democrats certainly counted us out. They said I was too young, [that] we could never raise the money to compete.”

Once they hold positions of power, Gen Z—people born from 1997 to 2012—might prove to be a moderating force in American politics, says Samuel Abrams, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

“We know from the survey data that most Gen Zers are actually quite comfortable dealing with social media, dealing with conflicting points of view and trying to find either a compromise or a way to work through things,” says Abrams, who is also a politics professor at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

“We do see a fair number of pretty extreme younger folks running, which worries me a little bit, but in theory … if there really is engagement, I would expect to finally see a moderating force in the parties.”

The Democratic leadership is currently dominated by people in their 70s and 80s. President Joe Biden is 79, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is 82 and Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader, is 83.

“I do think there’s a sense among congressional Democrats that the old guard is old and has been there a long time and that there is a need for some fresh blood,” says Jennifer Victor, an associate professor of political science at George Mason University in Virginia. “But then, when it comes down to it, and you’re actually voting on who the leadership is, they go right back to the old habits.”

Yet, younger members of Congress, like Democratic New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are finding other ways to stand out.

“When you look at members like Ocasio Cortez, they might not be in leadership, but they’re playing a leadership role in a lot of ways in terms of representing the party, being out there on the national stage, and giving younger voters someone to look at to identify with the party,” says Tom Bonier, a Democratic strategist and CEO of TargetSmart, a data and polling firm.

Republicans have been quicker to embrace younger leaders. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is 57, while Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking House Republican, is 38. Republican Paul Ryan was 45 when he was sworn in as Speaker of the House in 2015.

“I think that the Republican Party, whether young or old, they tend to hold a lot more similar principles,” Abrams says. “They created a phenomenal, what I would call [a] deep bench of younger folks. … The Republican Party, or allied interests, over the last decade or so have worked very hard to create organizations that actually cultivate this talent.”

The overall lack of younger representation in Congress could be a reason young voters didn’t show up in force for the last midterm elections in 2018.

“Eighteen-to-29-year-olds are 20% of the population as a whole, but they only made up 11% of the electorate. For example, the 65-plus population made up 31% of the electorate despite being only 13% of the population,” Victor says. “That distribution … is not proportionate to the population as a whole, and so it creates real inequities when it comes to representation and policymaking.”

There are a number of reasons why younger people don’t vote, according to Victor, including because they tend to be more transient, are often away at college, are not as aware of taxes and don’t have a lot of interaction with the government — all of which make elections feel less relevant to them.

But having candidates closer in age and experience, like Frost and Leavitt, could have an impact.

“They’ll have the potential to make this generation feel more connected to the process,” says Bonier, “and see voting or running for office as a way to actually engage on things they care about. Because at this point, I don’t think for the most part they do.”

One challenge Gen Z faces is finding its voice in a rapidly changing environment.

“It’s not entirely clear if Gen Z is going to develop a political voice here. I think it wants to. But I think one of the things to note is that because parties are weaker, because social media has diffused things, fundraising has changed, the way politics is conducted has changed,” Abrams says. “But the one thing I would say for certain is that with social media, the person can rise quickly.”

Meanwhile Frost, who says he drove for the Uber ride-hailing company in order to make ends meet while running for Congress, would like to see more overall representation in the House of Representatives.

“I’m going to do everything I can to get other people elected,” he says. “Yes, young people, but also just people of any age who come from working-class backgrounds. I think it’s important that we have a Congress that looks like the country.”

Many of America’s Founding Fathers were the same age as Gen Zers when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.

James Monroe, who later became president, was 18, while another future president, James Madison, was 25. Alexander Hamilton was 21, and future vice president [and eventual Hamilton killer] Aaron Burr was 20.

All of which means that if Frost and Leavitt make it to Congress, they’ll be following an American leadership tradition that is as old as the nation itself.

Author webdesk@voanews.com (Dora Mekouar)
Source : VOA

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