Prompted by an influx of young legislators and a new sense of bipartisanship, members of the General Assembly on Wednesday announced a new caucus focused on millennial issues.
The caucus – called the Virginia Future Caucus – consists of a bipartisan group of state legislators under the age of 45. Joined by a national organizer, about a dozen members of the new caucus said at the announcement that the group hopes to tackle issues facing people between 18 to 45 years old.
In last November’s election, 19 new delegates were elected. Of those new representatives, 14 are under the age of 45. The election also came with a sweeping change in the partisan makeup of the House of Delegates with Democrats cutting the Republican majority from 66-34 to 51-49.
“51-49 and all of these delegates here, I really think that we can establish our ground and provide some real leadership on policies that will benefit the people in the millennial generation,” said Del. Chris Peace, R-Mechanicsville, who will serve as a co-chair of the caucus.
The 41-year-old joked that he’s the chaperone of the caucus. Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, will serve as the other co-chair.
Rasoul, 36, said the caucus will look to “have a good time” through social events and work to find solutions to issues like college affordability.
“It’s really about bonding,” Rasoul said. “That’s where we’re really able to see past the tribalism.”
According to a recent survey conducted by Virginia21, a millennial advocacy organization, millennials listed college affordability, healthcare and environmental sustainability as issues that matter most to them.
Virginia is home to about 952,400 student-loan borrowers, according to data published in September by the U.S. Department of Education, constituting about $33.1 billion in student-loan debt. The average borrower has about $35,000 worth of debt, according to the federal data.
There is no set definition for what constitutes a millennial. Some classify those ages 18-34 as part of the generation, while others, like the new caucus, extend it to those under 45.
“Millennials aren’t this weird group that came out of nothing,” said Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico. “This is constant generational turnover and when you have generational turnover, you have different issues.”
The caucus is part of the Millennial Action Project, a national organization focused on having young elected officials work together regardless of party. Virginia is the 22nd state in the project’s State Future Caucus Network.
“What we need to do today, starting here, is initiate a counter-narrative of young leaders standing across the political spectrum who believe that we can overcome the partisan tribalism that has infected our country and focus on long-term solutions facing the state of Virginia and facing our great country,” said Steven Olikara, the founder and president of the project.