President-elect Donald Trump enjoyed a 42-point victory in the state of West Virginia. Nearly seven-in-ten residents supported the Republican nominee, but winning ‘bigly’ in the Mountain State hasn’t always been easy. In 2014, Republicans gained a majority in both the House of Delegates and the State Senate for the first time in over 80 years. And now, it’s not just the GOP that is well represented, millennials hold a significant influence in the state legislature, too.
Eleven members of the House of Delegates are 30 years old or under, with nine of them being Republican and two being just 20 years old. Even further, nearly 25 percent of Delegates are under the age of 40, and in the upper chamber is 34-year-old Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns. Young legislators have emerged as a strong voice for conservatism in what is now a deep-red state, and we can only hope the trend continues upwards and spreads nationwide.
Only 5 percent of state legislators nationwide are millennials, although they make up over 30 percent of voting-aged individuals, according to a 2015 report. This lack of representation is also seen at the ballot box, where less than half of millennials vote in any given election. However, noticing representation in state government that reflects their age, beliefs and ideology could help bolster political engagement among millennials.
One shining example of a young West Virginian conservative can be found in Delegate Saira Blair, featured in Red Alert Politics’ 2015 30 under 30. Elected in 2014 at just 18 years old, she was the youngest state legislator in the country. During the 2016 legislative session, Delegate Blair sponsored groundbreaking Constitutional Carry legislation while being a strong proponent of both women and millennials in politics.
“It’s important that young people learn that conservative principles do not just belong to ‘Old, White Men,’” Delegate Blair told Red Alert.
A new generation of leaders could not have emerged at a more critical time, as West Virginia faces no shortage of devastating hardships. Workforce participation is the lowest in the entire country, with over 50 percent of able-bodied adults unemployed or not actively searching for work. Opioid abuse and addiction have soared, youth drug overdoses were the highest in the country in 2015, and last year Huntington, West Virginia saw 27 overdoses in four hours. To top it off, last summer the state was rocked by “one-in-1,000-year” flooding, 44 of the 55 counties saw states of emergency and 26 people lost their lives. More of the same band-aid solutions will not work, West Virginia’s young leaders know this, and they’re poised to take the 2017 legislative session in full force.
Millennial voters from all demographics supporting the Republican nominee, rather unexpectedly and to the chagrin of many pundits, had a profound impact on Trump’s victory. Once thought of as an aberration, conservative millennials are here to stay, and in West Virginia, we’re lucky enough to have them legislating the solutions to our state’s toughest problems.