Guest Columnist

Millennials are underrepresented in elected office

Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, 27, speaks at the launch of the Iowa Future Caucus, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, at the Iowa
Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, 27, speaks at the launch of the Iowa Future Caucus, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, at the Iowa Capitol. Behind him, from left, are Cherisse Eatmon of the Millennial Action Project, Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, Sen. Zack Nunn, R-Bondurant, Sen. Zach Whiting, R-Spirit Lake, and Rep. Joe Mitchell, R-Mount Pleasant. Iowa is the 28th state to join the Millennial Action Project’s National State Future Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators age 40 and younger. The project is a movement of young elected officials breaking through partisan gridlock to re-establish political cooperation and create meaningful progress through government institutions. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)

In the next general election, millennials are expected to represent 27 percent of eligible voters, the second-largest group behind baby boomers, according to the Pew Research Center.

Despite those numbers, however, my age group is underrepresented in elected office. Just 6 percent of U.S. House members are millennials. Representation is a little bit better in the Iowa Legislature, where millennials make up about 13 percent of the two chambers.

One national group aims to increase young people’s influence in public policy, and it’s growing its footprint in Iowa.

There are many organizations dedicated to promoting young Americans’ political interests and claiming to be bipartisan or non-partisan, but they often are front groups for Democratic candidates and policies.

Millennial Action Project is different. I was encouraged to see the eight former elected officials on the organization’s national advisory board includes four Republicans and four Democrats.

“We have a lot of extremely conservative and libertarian members in our network, and many strongly progressive members as part of our network as well. They find alignment on a number of issues. I think that’s a key distinguishing point for our organization,” Millennial Action Project founder Steven Olikara told me recently.

Last week, I participated in a panel discussion at the group’s Iowa in Action conference in Des Moines. While the slate of speakers at the conference was slightly tilted toward Democrats, organizers made a strong effort to include me and other conservative voices.


Under the tagline “transcending political tribalism,” Millennial Action Project is also unique in its focus on actual legislating and policymaking. The group counts about 800 members of Congress and state legislators among its members.

During this year’s legislative session, a group of young lawmakers launched an Iowa offshoot of the Millennial Action Project, known as the Iowa Future Caucus, representing about 18 lawmakers under the age of 40. It’s co-chaired by two Republicans — Sen. Zach Nunn and Rep. Joe Mitchell — and two Democrats — Sen. Zach Wahls and Rep. Lindsay James.

Young lawmakers are developing a slate of issues that serve millennials’ interests and can earn bipartisan support. A few examples are easing restrictions on immigration, reforming student loans and promoting peer-to-peer entrepreneurship such as ride-sharing apps.

“Millennials are very complicated politically. I call it the ale carte generation because we’re not afraid to pick and choose these views from across the spectrum,” Olikara said.

I want to believe that’s true. Indeed, political tribalism is a plague, and I am passionate about the prospect of cross-partisan issues advocacy. But recent history gives me many reasons to doubt my peers are uniquely averse to political division. I have seen political allies fall into the us-versus-them trap, making politics a destructive team sport.

However, Olikara argues plenty of solution-minded Americans are out there, and we just need to organize them effectively.

“The most divisive voices of any generation get the most attention and the most retweets,” he said.

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