A bipartisan, nationwide organization seeking to involve young people in politics has established a chapter in Virginia, focusing on such issues as student debt relief and government transparency, officials said Wednesday.
The Millennial Action Project has created the Virginia Future Caucus, consisting of young lawmakers who vowed to work across party lines.
“When we are able to bond together, we are able to see past the tribalism that has divided us for so long,” said Democratic Del. Sam Rasoul, 36, of Roanoke.
Republican Del. Emily Brewer, 33, of Suffolk, said the caucus reflects a generational change in Virginia.
“Going forward, we’ve got to focus on key issues,” such as technology, she said. “We need to make sure we’re looking at providing opportunities for our generation and the next generation to stay here.”
Brewer and Rasoul were among a dozen state legislators who attended a news conference Wednesday to announce the formation of the Virginia Future Caucus.
Steven Olikara, president and co-founder of the Millennial Action Project, said this is the organization’s 22nd state chapter.
“We want to empower the next generation of leaders to make our democracy function better,” Olikara said. “Today the status quo is insufficient. Trust is declining. Partisanship is rampant. We think the next generation can be part of the solution.”
At the news conference, speakers noted that young Americans are more likely to be unaffiliated with a political party. They said these voters are concerned about issues such as:
.The “staggering” cost of college and student loans
.The “gig economy,” in which temporary employment is common as organizations hire independent contractors for short-term work, such as with Uber drivers
Olikara said 30 members of Congress have joined the project. He said the effort has especially focused on state legislatures, “which is really where a lot of young leaders are taking their first steps in politics including here in Virginia.”
The average age in the Virginia House of Delegates is 52. But several young people were elected to the House last fall, including Jay Jones, 28, of Norfolk; Lee Carter, 30, of Manassas; Chris Hurst, 30, of Montgomery County; and Danica Roem, 33, of Prince William County.
Rasoul and Del. Christopher Peace, R-Hanover, will co-chair the new caucus.
Peace said he was the youngest delegate when he was elected 13 years ago. Now 41, Peace said there can be an “issue of translation” between young legislators and their older colleagues who may be unfamiliar with terms such as Airbnb and Bitcoin.
Peace said the new caucus can “provide some real leadership on policies that would benefit people in the millennial generation.”
Olikara said Virginia has a history of young political leaders making their mark: Thomas Jefferson was just 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.
This story was produced by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Capital News Service.