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Millennial Lawmakers Work Across Party Lines... Sometimes

Mallory Noe-Payne/Radio IQ

The freshman class in Virginia’s House of Delegates is the most diverse in history. It is also one of the youngest.

Millennials. They’re not just wolfing down avocado toast in their parents basement anymore. Now they’re lawmakers.  About a dozen millennials now rank among members of the General Assembly, among them Republican Delegate Will Morefield of Tazewell. “It’s encouraging that the millennials, the younger Democrats and Republicans, can look beyond partisan politics and work on substantive policy changes that will truly make a difference,” Morefield said.

One of those policy issues is economic development. That’s why Morefield approached Lashresce Aird, a millennial Democrat from Petersburg. He was willing to bet she would work with him on a bill to help create tax breaks to attract businesses to struggling parts Virginia.

“He called me in the interim, said I really think this would be good for your district and didn’t care that I was of the opposite party," Aird said. "Didn’t care that we are in totally two separate parts of Virginia but really just reached out to really try and strategize about how we could effectively work together.”

After the election, millennial Democrat Chris Hurst from Blacksburg joined the effort. “When we want to have incentive packages, we need to make sure that we are not short changing our localities that are already struggling so much. So this basically provides an opportunity for companies to move in and also unites people across party lines and across regional lines across the commonwealth,” Hurst noted

Don’t think millennials are spending all their time working across party lines. They’re also subject to the same partisan forces as everybody else. Take the effort to make sure streaming video is taxed at the same rate as cable TV. Republican millennial Emily Brewer took the floor to say this: “Last week, the Republican caucus and the committee I sit on stood up against the so-called Netflix tax. Now Democrats are trying to reach deeper into the pockets of my generation and I just have to say something about it.”

What she had to say was pointed. “I just wonder if we are going to tax Snapchat, Instagram or maybe even Twitter next.”

To suggest that Netflix and Uber are the issues that young people care about misinterprets the powerful impact that millennial civic engagement over the issues that we care has had on the last political cycle.

The next day, millennial Democrat Schuyler Van Valkenburg took the floor to offer a counterpoint. “To suggest that Netflix and Uber are the issues that young people care about misinterprets the powerful impact that millennial civic engagement over the issues that we care has had on the last political cycle.”

Issues like jobs, access to health care, education and creating a Virginia that was open to everyone regardless of race, faith, gender, sexual orientation or country of origin.  “I find it shameful that in this great commonwealth, people in professions like teaching, may have to hide their identity for fear of being fired," Van Valkenburg continued. "What does that say to our students? What does that say to our community? And most importantly, what does that say to that teacher?”

This is not the first time that a new generation of young leaders has arrived in Richmond hoping to make a mark. Back in the 1950s a group of members became known as the Young Turks after taking on the Byrd Machine to increase funding for education. That effort was successful. Time will tell if the millennials leave here making the same kind of impact.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.