Caleb Hanna (R) is the son of a laid-off West Virginia coal miner. Dennis Ruprecht (D) and Cassie Levesque (D) hail from small, working-class towns in rural New Hampshire. Kalan Haywood (D) is the scion of a prominent Milwaukee family whose company redevelops inner-city real estate.
This quartet of college students have the distinction of being the nation's youngest state lawmakers--all members of Generation Z, born in the late 1990s--and part of a wave of new legislators elected in November 2018 that included 275 millennials (ages 22 to 37).
In the Spotlight
The youth wave attracted considerable attention, with particular interest in the four youngest, all of whom were just 19 when sworn in earlier this year. Over the past few months, they have been interviewed by media outlets ranging from The New York Times, The Washington Post and Fox News, to Teen Vogue and the British online newspaper The Independent.
Levesque's path to a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives was particularly captivating. An outdoorsy young woman with a flair for landscape photography and a fondness for the tales of Edgar Allan Poe, she parlayed her research for a Girl Scout project on child marriage into a successful push to change a state law that allowed boys and girls as young as 14 and 13, respectively, to marry. The experience left her feeling "that if I could do what I did as a private citizen, how much more I could do as a state rep? I wouldn't have to jump through so many hoops to have my voice heard--I'd be right there."
Hanna--a self-described "God, guns and babies Republican"--made something of a splash, too, by knocking off a three-term Democratic incumbent 50 years his senior. He was inspired as a grade-schooler to enter politics, he says, by the victory of former President Barack Obama--"but strictly because of the fact that he was African American. It had nothing to do with his policies," which Hanna blames for his father losing his job as a miner.
By contrast, Levesque is a progressive-leaning Democrat, as are Ruprecht and Haywood. But whatever their differences in background and outlook, all four of these young freshmen share a number of notable characteristics.
What stands out is their enthusiasm, their confidence and their determination to give voice to the interests, needs and aspirations of Gen Z. That's the demographic cohort of Americans that, at 25 percent of the population, is now larger than the baby-boom, Generation X or...