There are a lot of younger faces walking around the Capitol this session. They aren’t showing up on a single day to lobby for something they’re passionate about, these young faces are shaping policy for people across Louisiana.
‘Millennial legislators’ is a relatively new concept. You won’t find a lot of research online about the group. More than 800 millennials ran for state legislative seats across the country in 2018, and roughly 35 percent won, according to the Millennial Action Project.
“Five years ago, if you had told me I’d be standing right here, I wouldn’t have believed it,“ Louisiana State Representative Julie Emerson (R-Carencro) told NBC Local 33.
Rep. John Stefanski of Crowley is an attorney by trade who believes his age group is essential to help mold Louisiana policy. “There’s a large portion of the population that is 35 and under in Louisiana that votes and I think it’s important to have that sort of representation here in Louisiana,“ Stefanski said.
Colleague Rep. Edward “Ted“ James (D-Baton Rouge) cited millennials as being more diverse when compared to other members of the state Legislature. “I think we are very nimble in our policy discussions,“ said James, “we can see both sides because we’ve had those different experiences.“
Millennials are a generation born between 1981 and 1996.
“I think there’s a perception that we aren’t hard workers, that everything is handed to us,“ said Rep. Royce Duplessis (D-New Orleans).
Rep. Blake Miguez (R-Erath) said that stereotype is what inspired him to run for office, “I’m here to set an example for other millennials.“
Millennials are the second-largest generation with voting rights, according to the Pew Research Center. That influence is helping motivate millennial legislators shape state politics.
“I think (millennial lawmakers) gives the chamber, or the body as a whole a different perspective,“ said Sen. Rick Ward (R-Port Allen).
Legislators at the state Capitol said growing up in a digital world helped them become technologically savvy and they are using that knowledge to communicate with constituents.
“I get a lot of people that will say, ‘I love your live updates,’ or the ability to communicate something very quickly to people in your district,“ said Emerson.
“People want to have direct access to you and I think that’s a good thing, it creates more transparency,“ said Stefanski. “I probably get more messages through Facebook and Twitter and Instagram… than I do phone calls.“
James has nearly 12,000 followers on Instagram. He said he uses the platform to share what is happening on the floor in real time.
“Young people emulate what they see and too often, they see basketball players or they see a recording artist,“ said James. “They see these folks on t.v. everyday and it’s important that they see young people that came from their communities that are making and shaping decisions that impact their lives.“
James also said millennial influence helps to shape policy that is relevant to today’s constituents. “I filed a bill dealing with online privacy and social media and many of the members weren’t social media savvy, so they didn’t understand what we were trying to do,“ said James, “and it took two years to get it to pass.“
Some of the millennial legislators who spoke to NBC Local 33 said the job comes with unique challenges.
Ward is the father of three school-age children. “You’re trying to manage a young family and also some long hours here at the Capitol.“
Duplessis meanwhile, said he was in the process of planning his daughter’s first birthday. “In the midst of being in committee, being on the floor and preparing for future days, I’m also trying to coordiate bounce houses, and clowns to do balloons and face painting.“
Millennial lawmakers have unique backgrounds too. Miguez spent three seasons on a reality show on the History Channel, ‘Top Shots.’
“We did a lot of interviews on the reality show and there were a lot of politics,“ said Miguez. “It was kind of like a training camp for the Legislature.“
Miguez pointed out that regardless of his past, he, along with other millennial legislators were working toward the same goal as their older colleagues. “We’re all Louisianans and we all represent the voice of Louisianans and we’re all here to move Louisiana forward.“
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