Bipartisan Group Unites Young Legislators to Change Government

A national, nonpartisan group formed just five years ago has been busy organizing young policymakers at the state and national level to bring change in government.

In fall 2013, as opinion polls ranked partisanship as a top threat to democracy, as a government shutdown loomed and as the approval ratings of members of Congress and state governments dropped, a group known as the Millennial Action Project launched with a goal to look forward to the next generation of government leaders.

Steven Olikara, founder and president of the Millennial Action Project, said the group wanted to address how the millennial generation would do things differently. Would they transcend the partisan divide to build a better governing system?

Although the Millennial Action Project started with the Congressional Future Caucus, the nation’s first caucus for young members of Congress, it quickly moved into states. Now, as the nonprofit organization approaches its five-year anniversary, 26 states have formed state future caucuses of legislators under age 40 (or, in some cases, age 45).

“The state level is where most of the millennials are taking their first steps into public office, and that becomes the beginning of our leadership pipeline,” Olikara said.

In addition, there was a tremendous amount of opportunity at the state level because of the activity in state government with numerous bills being proposed and signed into law everyday.

“We want to not only build out this network and infrastructure of lawmakers who are rising stars and, increasingly, influencers in government, but really to shift the national narrative around public service because today the majority of millennials don’t believe that you can achieve change through politics,” Olikara said.

The Millennial Action Project provides resources and regularly convenes its members while helping them to identify bipartisan opportunities and promoting their members’ policy work. Millennials involved in state caucuses have introduced legislation that appeals to young people as well as the general population, including legislation related to ridesharing, entrepreneurship and redistricting reform.

In April, Alaska became the 26th state to join with the formation of the Alaska Future Caucus led by Rep. Jason Grenn, an independent, Rep. Geran Tarr, a Democrat, and Sen. David Wilson, a Republican.

“Serving as the co-chair of the Alaska Future Caucus is a great honor,” Grenn said, according to a Millennial Action Project report. “As we look toward the future, we need to ensure an ongoing bipartisan dialogue to better address the issues facing millennials and make sure these issues are a priority of the Alaska House of Representatives.”

Tarr said she was thrilled to lead the caucus with Grenn and Wilson in order “to prioritize people over party and support young legislators in working toward a culture of political cooperation.”

Layla Zaidane, the Millennial Action Project’s chief operating officer, said she believes in the power of the millennial generation to make a difference.

“The Millennial Action Project is helping policymakers talk to each other, instead of past one another, and is fostering constructive dialogue around the biggest problems in our country,” Zaidane said. “Not only are we working to transcend political tribalism, we're also creating a leadership pipeline of legislators who have the skills to work collaboratively and the network to create real change.”

Olikara called political tribalism the greatest threat to democracy right now, and he said there “could not be a more important moment for our work.” While the Millennial Action Project “packed a lot of work into five years,” it now plans to look forward and continue thinking about how to grow the organization and become a better resource for its members.

“I think we’ve proven that this model works,” he said. “We’ve proven that there is an intense hunger on the ground for new leadership.”

For more information about the Millennial Action Project, visit www.millennialaction.org

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