There’s a massive age gap between US government representatives and those they represent. Adults under 30 make up nearly 22% of voting-aged citizens in the United States, yet they are sorely underrepresented at all levels of government.
Take, for example, the current Congress, where the average age in both chambers is over 55. (You can’t serve legally in the House until 25 or in the Senate until 30.)
CNN reached out to young candidates across the country who are hoping to change that demographic in the 2018 midterm election. We asked them to submit videos or photos that represent their campaigns, and talk about how their age has helped or hindered them. While their parties and platforms varied, every candidate believes their generation needs to be heard.
Their answers have been lightly edited for time and clarity.
Occupation: Owner of a woodworking business
What she’s running for: New York Assembly, District 113
Platforms: Ethical leadership. Economic development. Tax reform.
Instagram handle: @morgan.zegers
Why she’s running: “New York state has one of the most corrupt governments in the country. Being a young candidate means I can bring energy, a fresh perspective and a positive outlook to combat the corruption. I am not running to bring a 21-year-old’s perspective. Instead, I am running for state assembly to bring my perspective as a hardworking, blue collar, frustrated, upstate taxpayer that is dedicated to building a New York where everybody feels confident building their future.”
Occupation: Just graduated from Georgetown
What he’s running for: Connecticut State Senate, 26th District
Platforms: Reducing gun violence. Revitalizing Connecticut’s economy. Equal rights for women and the LGBTQIA community.
Instagram handle: @willhaskellforct
Why he’s running: “Representative democracy should be representative. My generation has so much at stake in the upcoming election, yet too many of my peers sit on the sidelines each Election Day. As a result, we don’t have a voice in the state Senate.
In order to rebuild Connecticut, we need to attract the next generation of workers to start their families, small businesses and careers here. That can only begin when young people have a seat at the table.”
Occupation: Mississippi State Representative, District 110 and House Minority Secretary
What he’s running for: U.S. House of Representatives, MS-04
Platforms: Raising the minimum wage. Improving public education. Implementing criminal justice reform.
Instagram handle: @jerameyforms
Why he’s running: “I already have five years of experience serving as a state legislator. I think my age is one of my greatest advantages and having more young people in Congress is the change we need now. Being young in this current political climate means you have more to lose or gain with policies that are put into action in Washington.
I believe millennials are less likely to be politically biased than previous generations. We are focused on solutions instead of blindly following a partisan agenda. People say we are the future leaders of tomorrow, but I say we need to be the leaders of today because it is our tomorrow at stake. As I always tell my constituents, ‘Nothing that is done without us can be for us.’ ”
Occupation: High school teacher
What she’s running for: Nevada Assembly, District 3
Platforms: Reducing classroom size and raising teacher pay. Paid family leave policies. Access to health care.
On Facebook: @selenatorresnv
Why she’s running: “Nevada is ready for the next generation of young, energetic and diverse leaders who will bring 21st century ideas and hard work to the state legislature. As a young candidate and soon-to-be young legislator, I am committed to finding long-term solutions to the issues that face our community.”
Occupation: Public Relations & Councilwoman in Westwood, NJ
What she’s running for: Westwood City Council, re-election
Platforms: Opposes marijuana legalization. Fiscal responsibility. Reducing stigmas surrounding the LGBT community and those with mental health disorders.
On Facebook: @AlyssaDawsonforWestwood
Why she’s running: “As a gay Republican, I have gotten quite a bit of backlash. My response to these people is that I am a ‘different’ kind of Republican – fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Political affiliation is not cookie-cutter, but rather a letter next to my name. That ‘R’ does not inhibit me from thinking independently and making decisions that might not always be in line with ‘my party.’
I’ve had people tell me I should switch parties because it’s impossible to be gay and be a Republican. Well, I am proof that it is possible and I know others who are in the same boat. I am optimistic that my generation can continue moving toward middle ground. The future starts now, and I want to ensure that the future is as bright as possible.”
Occupation: Activist and entrepreneur
What he’s running for: Mayor of Chicago
Platforms: Creating inclusive communities. Ending government corruption. Re-imagining Chicago’s future.
Instagram handle: @jaymalgreen
Why he’s running: “I am, first and foremost, an activist in the city of Chicago, where I’ve worked as a motivational speaker, youth mentor and community organizer for years. One of the issues that I focus on is gun violence; I’ve actively implemented programs in Chicago specifically designed to help reduce the threat of gun-related danger in the city. I also focus on race relations, economics, and the current state of political justice in the United States.”
Occupation: Student at the University of South Dakota
What he’s running for: South Dakota House of Representatives, District 5
Platforms: Education and government reform
On Facebook: @RiesForSDHouse
Why he’s running: “Our legislature has acknowledged the brain drain in South Dakota; we are having a hard time keeping youth in our state. Who better to help solve this issue than youth themselves? I have recent experience in our state’s education system, so I can provide valuable insight as to what makes youth want to stay in South Dakota for college and beyond.
Traditional experience doesn’t always help when dealing with a generational divide. I want to help fill the generational gap that exists in our legislature.”
Occupation: Student at DePaul University in Chicago
What she’s running for: DuPage County Board, District 4
Platforms: Better public transportation. Preserving the environment. Fixing the opioid crisis.
Instagram handle: @hadiyafordupage
Why she’s running: “I believe my youth allows me to pursue ambitious policy goals without the cynicism that comes from political fatigue. I’m not willing to give up on important issues because I understand exactly how important the long-term consequences of every decision are. After all, my peers and I will be the ones who have to deal with them.
As a recent high school graduate, I know exactly what the public school system is like in our district, and what issues students face. I know community college students who bemoan traffic jams on the way to class. I know classmates who have died of drug overdoses or have had to go to rehab for opioid addictions.
I’ve been passionately committed to building a better DuPage County for my neighbors and community, and I think that comes from being a young person who still wants to make a difference.”
Occupation: Certified public accountant
What he’s running for: U.S. House of Representatives, CA-34
Platforms: Humane immigration reform. Ending homelessness. Criminal justice reform. Civil rights
Instagram handle: @kennethmejiaforcongress
Why he’s running: “Youth are the most underrepresented demographic in our political system, yet they are the ones who are struggling from the decisions and policies created by older politicians who have lost touch with the realities new generations face. I see my friends drowning in tens of thousands of dollars of debt, who can’t find jobs, who can’t afford to live on their own or make rent and who still live with their parents. Seeing this struggle – and living with it personally – I can see which areas our elected officials need to focus on more.
My mom inspired me to run. Her ability to raise four kids as a single mom, to care for others as a registered nurse, and her dedication to helping others is what pushes me to help others as well so that people can live with a life of dignity and respect. She is bold, that is why I too am bold in fighting for a better future.”
Occupation: Director of Communications, R.I. Coalition Against Gun Violence
Running unopposed for: Providence City Council, Ward 12
Platforms: Affordable housing. Education. Supporting small businesses.
Twitter handle: @KatKerwinPVD
Why she’s running: “My age serves as a strength of the job. I am at a point in my life where I do not have a family of my own. And in many ways, I think having fewer familial obligations has allowed me to focus whole-heartedly on community work. City Council is a 24-hour-a-day job and when a constituent calls, I answer.
Many politicians who are older or ‘more established’ are in a different place in their lives. They may own homes, and be in a comfortable place financially. I am currently renting, and frankly, have no idea when or how I will get to a place in my life where I can independently own my own home. I am constantly thinking about how we can make my city affordable. My age is allowing me to advocate for both young folks and neighbors of mine that are trying to make ends meet and don’t see a future staying in this city with the current lack of affordable housing.”
CNN’s John Albinson contributed to this story.