An elephant never forgets, and the aging herd of Republicans in our legislature are no exception. The airing of grievances seems to be their go-to rhetorical move. Whatever outrage the Republicans are inflicting on the state inevitably recalls–and derives justification from–a past Democratic misdeed. It’s hard to govern for the future when the mind is riven with long-simmering discontents.
Given the demographic makeup of our government, this fixation on past grievances is perhaps unavoidable. Vexation builds over time, and it is hard for anyone to let go. It’s only human. Fortunately, there’s a way to correct this institutional tendency toward the backward gaze. We can elect more young people.
State government currently suffers from an acute shortage of young leaders. Baby boomers predominate in the legislature. The top three Republicans in the Senate are all in their mid-sixties. House leadership is somewhat younger, but rank-and-file representatives tilt heavily toward older generations. Legislators under the age of 45, let alone 35, are hard to find. Even though the average North Carolina resident is only 38. Our primary governing body has advanced past the life stage of the people it serves.
Adding more young leaders is not a mechanical matter of representation. Younger politicians would bring unique strengths to the governing process. Due to where they are in life, they naturally look toward the future, not the past. They innately understand the computer technologies that are reshaping our world. Their experience of family life is not a receding memory of stay-at-home mothers and stable jobs. On a day to day basis, they live the realities that increasingly typify life in North Carolina and around the country.
There’s good news. We are seeing a small stream of young people trickle into politics. Chaz Beasley and Jeff Jackson are making a name for themselves in the General Assembly, and as county commission chair Jessica Holmes is the most powerful person in Wake County government. This is a genuinely good start, but the growth of Millennial leadership needs to continue until they have a large footprint in government.