*Note: The audio for this story refers to Kristin Ashy as an incumbent. She was elected to the AISD board for the first time in November.
Millennials are no longer knobby-kneed children and teens; they’ve aged into adulthood. While the precise dates that define the Millennial generation are up for debate, it generally encompasses those between the ages of 22 and 37. And while Millennials have proved to be an important voting bloc, more and more of them are also running for political office.
In the November midterms, there were several Millennials running in statewide elections in Texas, and there were even more in local races.
Zachary Price ran for the District 4 seat of Austin Independent School District’s Board of Trustees. He says there was a lot of focus on his age.
“Yes, I am a good amount younger than the rest of the candidates, across all positions, but it reflects the type of voice that I could bring in. I have sat in Austin ISD classrooms. That’s why I’m talking about issues like mental health, like sexual assault, because those are the issues really impacting students.”
Price centered his campaign around combating unaddressed mental health issues among Austin ISD students. Within this platform, he pushed for changes to sexual assault reporting practices, a reduction in standardized testing and better ways to more directly address the mental health needs of individual students. He says all this was on his mind because of number of student suicides at Anderson High School, his alma mater.
Price lost his race for the AISD Board of Trustees to Kristin Ashy. But it likely won’t be his last go-around in politics. Price also says the stereotypes associated with his generation aren’t always accurate.
“I’ve never actually seen avocado toast before; I have no idea what it would even look like. I think there are a lot of people in this country who are looking for a different voice and experience. What we’ve got right now has gotten us to the position we are as a country, as a state and as a school board. And that’s not helping anyone,” Price says.
Andrew Morris is another millennial who was on the ballot in November. He’s a 33-year-old British expat who ran for a seat in the Texas House as a way to get more involved in his community.
“I’ve always been involved in politics. Even before I was a citizen, I was getting involved with trying to register Texans to vote. I was trying to get people to vote, to get out the vote. It’s something that is, from someone who wants to vote but can’t vote, there’s nothing more infuriating than talking with my friends and family who are kind of ambivalent about voting, and I was just trying to impress on them, ‘You have no idea what a precious commodity voting is,’” Morris says.
Morris says his work on campaigns and with activist groups led him to what he calls the “next logical step”: running for office. He says politics needs the perspective and ideas of people from his generation.
“We need to bring that fresh leadership in, we need to have that turnover of leadership so that Millennials can feel like they are being represented and their voices are being heard. I want Millennials to ruin the concept of pay-to-play politics that has been around for far too long,” Morris says.
Morris lost his race in House District 64 in Denton to incumbent Lynn Stuckey.
But Erin Zwiener wasn’t facing an incumbent in House District 45, southwest of Austin. She won her race while eight-months pregnant. Zwiener says being a Millennial woman influenced her campaign experience.
“Young women have a pretty narrow window of how we are expected to dress to look adequately professional,” Zwiener says. “Young women are asked a lot more questions about their experience than young men. And we have to be extra careful in terms of cultivating an image that helps us present ourselves as qualified for office. The first few months I was campaigning, I had somebody reach out me every other day to give me tips on makeup or my hair or what I should be wearing.”
Zwiener says she also faced pushback for not living in her district in recent years. Although she’d previously lived in the area, she moved away for a time to go to school. She says this issue affects all Millennials.
“If we attack folks for not being still in one place for a long time, what we’re effectively saying is that young people who often travel for their studies don’t deserve a place at the table. I think that’s really unfortunate,” Zwiener says.
Dan Crenshaw is another Millennial who won his race in the Texas midterms. He’s a former Navy SEAL who briefly gained notoriety for appearing on “Saturday Night Live.”
Now Crenshaw is headed to Washington to represent District 2, outside of Houston. He says he wants to bring attention to the needs of veterans and also focus on national security issues.
“National security issues and intelligence issues, defense issues – those are things that can’t be taught and can’t really be researched, for a variety of reasons. One: it’s extremely complex, and two: a lot of it’s classified. It’s not as if you can go online and research these topics and become better policymakers as a result. You really need experience,” Crenshaw says.
Crenshaw’s message to all politicians is that Millennials do more than most give them credit for.
“Everybody says ‘Don’t bother talking to Millennials; they don’t vote,’ and maybe that’s true. But frankly, I enjoy it and they are the future. I think it behooves us to talk to them.”
As for how, exactly, Millennials will change politics from the inside, we’ll have to wait and see once they officially take office.