The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

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March 31, 2014

Meet the new group of twentysomethings trying to elect young people in 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Last September, LaunchProgress threw a kick-off fundraiser in Washington, D.C. They didn’t hold it at a steakhouse downtown, or at a glitzy house in Georgetown. Instead they held it at Ozio, a downtown bar known more for happy hour specials than hosting political fundraisers (one of the organizers excitedly said that it was the cheapest place they could find).

The party itself — with Miley Cyrus playing over the hum of the assembled twenty-somethings — featured patrons who looked more like the people who work behind the scenes in modern campaigns than the ones who fund it. But these people weren’t prepping to build Web sites or do data analytics or go door-knocking for candidates the same age as their parents, the de riguer path to power for young politically-minded types. Instead, LaunchProgress was hoping to raise money to help elect people who looked like the people chatting about Facebook and student debt and their nonprofit internships upstairs at Ozio that night.

Poy Winichakul, who previously worked at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Luke Squire, who worked for North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, co-founded LaunchProgress last year with an eye toward building an infrastructure to elect people ages 18 to 35. Beyond that, they also want to elect young minorities, too — an especially underrepresented group of people in politics.

A study conducted by Rutgers University in 2004 showed that half of elected officials in the United States at that point had taken office when they were under 35. However, many of those first elections took place decades ago; the U.S. Congress is going noticeably gray. Last year, NBC News crunched the numbers; the average age of U.S. senators is 60 — the oldest ever. The average member of Congress is about 55 — the oldest in a century.

LaunchProgress isn’t alone in trying to call young potential politicians to arms. Similar Republican groups have sprung up in the past year. George P. Bush and Jeb Bush Jr. set up Maverick PAC, which, as Chris Moody reported last July, is “working to encourage right-leaning millennials and Gen Xers to start giving to Republican campaigns and causes.” RightNOW Women PAC, which launched this January, is trying to get young Republican women to run for office. The 501(c)4 Concord 51 “is looking to mobilize Republicans under 35 into a national movement,” as Anna Palmer reported last March. But these groups are a drop in the bucket compared to all the organizations mobilizing for more traditional, older candidates.

“There aren’t many organizations that invest in young people,” Winichakul says, which is why they’re planning to invest in state legislative races in Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina this year, providing campaign help to a select number of candidates who are running for their first political office.

After a few months of preliminary organizing with the LaunchProgress Action Fund, the nonprofit arm of their organization that seeks to get young people to run in the first place, they’re ready to debut LaunchProgress PAC. The political action committee plans to help unseasoned candidates write news releases and stump speeches, organize public outreach and contact local media.

On Monday, they announced their first endorsements, all candidates running for the Michigan state legislature.

Jon Hoadley is running in House District 60 in Kalamazoo, and would be the only openly gay member currently in the statehouse if elected. Stephanie Chang is running in District 6 in Detroit, and would be the first Asian American woman to serve in the state legislature if elected. Kristy Pagan is running is House District 21, and once worked as a legislative aide for Michigan’s first female senator, Debbie Stabenow. (The Michigan state legislature is currently made up of 20 percent women.) Rebecca Thompson is running in House District 1 in Detroit, and has worked for several organizations trying to elect young people.

Next month, the LaunchProgress PAC will announce the candidates they plan to support in Ohio. They will select candidates from North Carolina in May. The rubric they use to pick candidates? “We’re about finding and helping the next Elizabeth Warren,” Winichakul says.

Winichakul says the LaunchProgress PAC is focusing on state legislature races in 2014 because that’s where they have the greatest ability to affect change.

The group will help their chosen candidates by matching them up with members of the candidate advisory committee, which currently has 30 members. They come from all over the country, and come from many different careers — some are political, some are technological, some are whizzes at graphic design, but all have something to offer first-time campaigners in the eyes of Winichakul and Squires.

The thing candidate Hoadley’s looking forward to most about working with LaunchProgress in Michigan is that the group could bring attention to races that people wouldn’t pay attention to otherwise.

“Politics is something that people don’t necessarily talk about on a regular basis,” he says. “Especially young people. If there weren’t groups like LaunchProgress to say, ‘Hey, look at this race, it’s important,’ they would go under the radar. And that’s exciting.”


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