By John Celock
Young elected officials across the country at all levels of government have been making headlines and trying new approaches to government and politics this year. From the youngest mayor in New York State to the youngest state party chair in the country these young elected officials are making headlines. For the purposes of this list, a young elected official is defined as being 35 or younger, with an exception given for an official who was first elected under 35 and is still under the age of 40.
This list is not presented in any particular order.
North Dakota State Rep. Kylie Oversen (D)
Kylie Oversen is not only entering her fourth year in the Legislature, but is the chairwoman of the North Dakota Democratic Party and a law student at the University of North Dakota and she’s not even 30. Oversen, the youngest state political party chair in the country, represents the state’s 42nd legislative district, centered around the University of North Dakota campus in Grand Forks. She has become an outspoken advocate for her district and for the Democratic Party in North Dakota, gaining national attention in the process. She’ll be up for reelection in 2016 and has been mentioned as a future statewide candidate.
West Virginia State Del. Saira Blair (R)
Saira Blair made national headlines last year when at the age of 18 she won a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates, becoming the nation’s youngest state legislator. The daughter of a state senator, Blair has navigated her freshman year in Charleston and is setting up for the coming year.
U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-California)
Eric Swalwell gained fame in his freshman term (2013-2015) by tweeting out photos of his feet as he boarded planes for his biweekly commute between the Bay Area and Washington. In 2015, he’s been doing more flying. He was tapped by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to head up the Future Forum, a Democratic group of young members of Congress geared towards reaching out to millennials around the country. Swalwell’s work with the group has given him a platform to talk about the need to reduce student debt, tying it to other economic issues. He has emerged as a leading millennial elected official in the country this year.
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-New York)
Elise Stefanik in 2014 became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress ending a record set in 1972 by former U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-N.Y.). Since coming to Congress, Stefanik, a political veteran even before running for office, has focused on the needs of her largely rural district in New York State’s North Country. She has also taken the lead on millennial outreach for the House GOP, becoming a counterpoint for Swalwell on that issue. With both parties competing for millennial voters in the long term, both will be members to watch.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)
The second term Gabbard, a combat veteran, has become one of the leading national security voices of her generation in Congress. A member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees and a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Gabbard has not been afraid to buck her party. She has been critical of President Obama’s approach to certain foreign policy issues and suggested that the DNC hold more than six presidential debates. The debate issue led to a public sparring match with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who Gabbard said disinvited her from a Democratic debate in Las Vegas. Expect Gabbard to continue to speak her mind in 2016.
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois)
Adam Kinzinger started his third term in 2015 as one of the House GOP’s most well known voices on national security issues. An Air Force veteran, Kinzinger is a frequent spokesman for his party on national security, raising his star power as time goes on. The 37-year-old started out in politics early, being 20 when he was elected to the county board in McLean County for one term. He then left politics for several years before running for Congress in 2010.
Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (D)
Jason Kander, an Afghanistan veteran, has made a name for himself in the Show Me State as a tenacious campaigner who is not afraid to traverse the state on a seemingly daily basis talking to voters. His campaign style is getting national notice as he seeks to unseat U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R) in 2016. Kander’s campaign style and fundraising ability has gotten him boosted on the list of Democratic challengers, along with his continued focus on ethics reform. Kander has made ethics reform his focus in the Missouri Legislature and as secretary of state and has turned the focus on Blunt and the incumbent’s relatives who are lobbyists. Kander has made the 2016 Missouri Senate race one to watch.
Former Kansas State Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R)
Travis Couture-Lovelady started 2015 as a member of the Kansas House GOP leadership and ends it as a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. Couture-Lovelady, known as Kansas’ leading Second Amendment rights advocate during his legislative service, successfully pushed the constitutional carry bill through Kansas this year. The bill will allow a Kansas resident to conceal carry without a permit. In addition to his work on gun issues, Couture-Lovelady worked on welfare reform and transportation innovation this year. While he left the House for the NRA in early December, Couture-Lovelady is still regarded as a rising star in Kansas GOP circles and has been mentioned as a potential congressional or statewide candidate in the future.
Kansas State Rep. Brandon Whipple (D)
Brandon Whipple entered his second term in the Kansas House earlier this year by becoming the House Democratic agenda chairman. During this year, Whipple has continued to become known as a legislator who can not only represent the views of his party but work across the aisle as a consensus builder on certain issues. Whipple has become involved in several national groups geared towards young elected Democrats, giving him a platform to exchange ideas with other officials from around the country.
New Hampshire State Rep. Rio Tilton (R)
Rio Tilton became the nation’s second youngest state legislator earlier this year when he won a special election for the New Hampshire House of Representatives at the age of 19. Tilton’s first legislative session starts in a few weeks, where he’ll seek to stand out in the 400-person chamber. While his youth stands out nationally, he is not alone in New Hampshire history, where many young elected officials have gotten their start in the state House.
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop (D)
Steve Fulop is 37 but at times it feels like he has been in politics for much longer than his years. First elected in 2005 as a city councilman, Fulop was elected mayor of New Jersey’s second largest city in 2013 and has quickly become a statewide figure. Fulop has quickly become one of three Democrats competing for governor in 2017. Fulop has gained alliances with other urban Democrats around northern New Jersey as he seeks to unite the north in a potential geographic battle with state Senate President Steve Sweeney, who hails from South Jersey. Time will tell if Fulop’s work will pay off for him.
Oswego, N.Y. Mayor-elect Billy Barlow (R)
Billy Barlow, 25, was elected as New York State’s youngest mayor in November, unseating an incumbent in upstate Oswego. Barlow, a city councilor, campaigned on the need to bring millennials back to Oswego, including rehabbing the downtown and the city’s housing stock. Barlow’s election brought him recognition as people look to see if the young mayor can deliver on his promises for the city.
North Dakota Rep. Jessica Haak (D)
Jessica Haak has made combating human trafficking one of her top issues in the North Dakota House of Representatives. This year she has pushed through a human trafficking relief fund and advocated for the issue amongst her colleagues. North Dakota has seen a renewed interest in human trafficking issues with the oil boom in the western part of the state leading to concerns that the state could have a rise in cases. In addition to Haak’s work at the state level, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) has made human trafficking a top concern of hers in Washington.
Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner-elect Ryan Quarles (R)
Ryan Quarles is set to become the nation’s youngest statewide elected official next month when he is sworn-in as Kentucky’s new commissioner of agriculture. Quarles, a state legislator, defeated both a Republican primary opponent and Democratic opponent to gain his statewide office by focusing on rural and agricultural issues and showcasing his work in the state Legislature and background in rural Kentucky. Quarles’ victory sets him up for a future on the statewide stage in Kentucky.
Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld (D)
P.G. Sittenfeld has shown this year that just because he’s young he’s not going to follow the party leaders. The 31-year-old Cincinnati councilman announced his candidacy for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R) at the beginning of 2015. After former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, the Democratic Party’s favorite to challenge Portman, entered the race, many expected Sittenfeld to step aside for the better-known and funded former governor. Sittenfeld has not, instead campaigning actively around the state and continuing to raise his name identification. While he still has a huge mountain to climb to defeat Strickland, Sittenfeld has gained valuable name identification that could help should he run for one of Ohio’s statewide offices in 2018.