Young NC Lawmakers Hope New 'Millennial' Caucus Bridges Partisan Divide

Jun 16, 2017

It's being called a political crisis: Partisanship is the worst it's been in decades. Now, a few North Carolina legislators think they might have a solution: Building a political coalition based on their shared youth. Charlotte Democratic Representative Chaz Beasley is 31 years old, and one of the chairs of the new North Carolina Future Caucus.

"It's critical in this current time that we have more bi-partisanship and that we're willing to work across the aisle," Beasley said. "We also know that it is tremendously important that people who are going to be the future of our state feel like they have ownership of what we’re doing."

The state's future caucus is one of 20 around the country that have been formed since 2014 as part of the Millennial Action Project. Millennials are people born between 1981 and 2000, or people who may have come of age when this song topped the charts:

Stokes County Republican Representative Kyle Hall was only 11 when R-Kelly brought that remix fresh out the kitchen. Now age 25, Hall is the state's youngest lawmaker.

"I think that one good thing about this caucus that we have established here is giving us that open dialog," Hall said.

"Chaz Beasley and I dont necessarily agree on every single issue that’s in the General Assembly," Hall added, but that he thinks he and Beasley can come together around certain issues like tax reform, job building, and education funding.

"And now we're even seeing bi-partisan coalition building on nonpartisan redistricting, on climate change, on issues that typically you would think are partisan, tribalistic" - Millennial Action Project founder Steven Olikara

Hall and Beasley are two of just 12 North Carolina lawmakers who truly fall into the millennial category. That's 12 out of 170. Millennial Action Project founder Steven Olikara helped create caucuses in other states. He says they had to stretch the age limit up to 45 in North Carolina.

"I think we chose 45 in this state because we wanted a critical mass of members," he said."In some states where there are more 30-somethings or 20-somethings, we can lower the age."

Most millennial caucus are groups of lawmakers under 40. Even with the extended age limit, one of the North Carolina millennial caucus’s co-chairs, Jay Chaudhuri, turned 47 this year. When he was a teenager, the Billboard Top 40 had a lot more George Michael.

"Now I will confess to you that I am not a millennial, I am a member of the Gen X generation," Chaudhuri said. "But there's a reason that I have a vested interest in making sure that we have established the North Carolina future caucus."

Chaudhuri said he has a lot of millennials in his urban Wake County district. But young people are less likely to vote or run for office. Nationwide, even though millennials make up the largest generation of voters (31 percent), they account for just 5 percent of membership in state legislatures. An even tinier percentage of lawmakers are millennial women. North Carolina for example, doesn’t have a single millennial woman lawmaker.

Millennial Action Project founder Steven Olikara says future caucuses in other states are already working against the partisan narrative. He notes future caucuses have brought Republicans and Democrats together to pass legislation around ridesharing technology, entrepreneurship and higher education.

"And now we're even seeing bipartisan coalition building on nonpartisan redistricting, on climate change, on issues that typically you would think are partisan, tribalistic ... our members are able to find generational alignment there," he said.

North Carolina's future caucus hasn’t met yet. Representative Beasley said he has sent out invitations to 25 lawmakers asking them to join. He hopes to begin their work before next year’s short session.  

Hey, there might even be an after-party.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated there are 270 North Carolina lawmakers. There are 170 lawmakers.