Young Legislators Win Leadership Posts

By John Celock

Two of the youngest state legislatures in the country elevated a combined total of seven young lawmakers to leadership posts this week.

In North Dakota, Democratic lawmakers reelected two young legislative leaders, including the Senate minority leader, while elevating two more young Democrats to their state House leadership team. In Kansas, one Republican and two Democrats nabbed leadership spots in Monday elections.

North Dakota Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider (D-Grand Forks), 35, was reelected to a second two year term, while House Assistant Minority Leader Corey Mock (D-Grand Forks), 29, was reelected to his second term. Both Schneider and Mock represent the state’s 42nd legislative district, which is dominated by the University of North Dakota and has a history of electing younger lawmakers.

In the North Dakota House, Mock is being joined in the leadership team by Rep. Ben Hanson (D-Fargo), 28, and Rep. Joshua Boschee (D-Fargo), 32, who will take on the posts of co-caucus leaders for House Democrats.

Kansas state Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Palco), 30, is joining the GOP leadership team as caucus chairman, while Rep. Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita), 31, the new agenda chairman for House Democrats, and Rep. John Wilson (D-Lawrence), 31, is taking on the policy chairman role for House Democrats. All three were first elected in 2012 as part of the largest class of first term young state lawmakers of any state that year.

Couture-Lovelady, who lost a bid for House majority whip last year and has functioned as a deputy whip since, said that House Speaker Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell) approached him to run for the leadership because of the rise of young lawmakers in the state.

“Speaker Merrick told me it was time for young electeds to step up and take positions of leadership. I ran to help facilitate the communications between the large number of folks who have been there two terms or less and the leadership team,” Couture-Lovelady told The Celock Report. “We have the largest Republican majority in decades with a significant number being young electeds and have an incredible opportunity to lead. Kansas should be a shining example to the country of how a state can thrive under conservative governance.”

The 2012 election saw one of the largest freshman classes in Kansas history, due in large part to a redistricting process conducted by a federal court that created many open seats.

Wilson and Whipple were among three young Democrats to win seats in the Kansas House in 2012, which saw a GOP wave. The duo were joined by former Rep. Emily Perry (D-Mission), who stepped down earlier this year after announcing she would not seek a second term.

Whipple said that he sought the agenda chairmanship in part to ensure a Wichita lawmaker was in the Democratic leadership. Whipple is the only lawmaker from Kansas’ largest city in the new House Democratic leadership team, which is dominated by lawmakers from the northeast part of the state. Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) was defeated in his bid for House minority leader on Monday.

“It’s important that our leadership team reflect Kansas values across the state,” Whipple told The Celock Report. “I ran in part of ensure that Wichita had a seat at the leadership table.”

Kansas House Minority Leader-elect Tom Burroughs (D-Kansas City) said that his caucus has been working to mentor new leaders in the party. He described both Wilson and Whipple as “common sense leaders.”

“Kansas House Democrats have placed a priority upon developing leaders for the future,” Burroughs told The Celock Report in a statement. “We are excited to have Representatives Brandon Whipple and John Wilson step up to take on the responsibilities that come with being caucus leaders. They have quickly earned the respect of legislators on both sides of the aisle and I would expect both to be strong advocates for their districts and common sense leaders for many years to come.”

Hanson told The Celock Report that he wanted to bring the voice of his district to the Democratic leadership table along with being a younger lawmaker.

“Lawmakers should reflect the people they are elected to represent,” Hanson said. “While it can be a challenge to balance employment and young family life, I wanted to run for office and run for a leadership position to make sure that our caucus was up to speed and communicating with the people I represent.”

Schneider and Mock were both elected to the Legislature in 2008 and reelected in 2012, assuming their leadership posts following the 2012 election. The third state lawmaker from their district, Rep. Kylie Oversen (D-Grand Forks) is also in her 20s, having succeeded former Rep. Stacey Dahl (R-Grand Forks), also a young elected official, in 2012.

Mock was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for secretary of state in 2010, while Schneider hails from one of the state’s leading Democratic families. Schneider’s father, Mark, is a former state Democratic Party chairman, while his mother, Mary, just started her first term in the state House of Representatives. His late uncle, John, was state House minority leader and the state’s U.S. attorney in the 1990s. His cousin, Jasper, is a former state lawmaker who currently serves as acting administrator of the U.S. Rural Utilities Service.

Boschee and Hanson have been gaining visibility in Bismarck since taking office two years ago. Boschee, the state’s first openly gay state lawmaker, unsuccessfully pushed a ban on LGBT discrimination in the state in 2013.

North Dakota Democrats have had a history of grooming young legislators to take on leadership positions in the state party. In addition to Mock’s 2010 secretary of state campaign, the party’s 2014 nominee for state public service commissioner was state Sen. Tyler Axness (D-Fargo), who is in his 20s. In 2008, Jasper Schneider, then 29, was the Democratic nominee for state insurance commissioner.

In Kansas, Couture-Lovelady currently serves as the vice chairman of the powerful House Federal and State Affairs Committee, which handles legislation related to social issues. Couture-Lovelady, who was unopposed for a second term, was campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) this year.

Wilson and Whipple have been gaining leadership roles in the state House since being elected in 2012. Wilson has served as the ranking minority member of the House Children and Seniors Committee for the last two years, while Whipple has staked out a leadership role on labor issues from his seat on the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee.

In the Kansas Senate, Sen. Garrett Love (R-Montezuma), who is in his 20s, has served as majority whip since 2013.

Whipple noted that it is important to have younger lawmakers in leadership circles.

“I believe it is important to include young elected officials in positions of leadership as it gives us an opportunity to learn from those with more experience while providing a fresh perspective,” he said.