Caleb Hanna campaigned after school and on weekends in West Virginia.

Rick Barbero/The Register-Herald/AP Photo


Teens in the Statehouse

Meet three young people who recently won election to their state legislatures. Why did they run, and what do they hope to accomplish?

In 2017, six teen boys announced they were running for governor of Kansas. At ages 16 and 17, they weren’t even old enough to vote yet—but at the time, there was no minimum age requirement to become the state’s chief executive.*

The teens knew success was unlikely.

“The day a 17-year-old wins governor of any state will be the day pigs fly,” Joseph Tutera Jr., one of the candidates, said during the campaign. But “hey, we’re here, we’ve got ideas.”

Although none of the boys ended up winning, the race was indicative of a growing movement of young people who want a say in deciding issues that affect their lives, such as climate change, minimum-wage rates, and gun control. Last year, more teens began campaigning for seats in their state and local governments—and several went on to win.

“My generation wants to be part of solving the issues,” says Kalan Haywood, 19, who was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in November. “Politics has been made cool.”

These three lawmakers won their state races as teens last fall and were recently sworn into office. Now the real work begins.

In 2017, six teen boys announced they were running for governor of Kansas. At ages 16 and 17, they weren’t even old enough to vote yet. But at the time, there was no minimum age requirement to become the state’s chief executive.*

The teens knew success was unlikely.

“The day a 17-year-old wins governor of any state will be the day pigs fly,” Joseph Tutera Jr., one of the candidates, said during the campaign. But “hey, we’re here, we’ve got ideas.”

None of the boys ended up winning. But the race highlighted a growing movement of young people who want a say in deciding issues that affect their lives. The issues they care about include climate change, minimum-wage rates, and gun control. Last year, more teens began campaigning for seats in their state and local governments. Several of them went on to win.

“My generation wants to be part of solving the issues,” says Kalan Haywood, 19, who was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in November. “Politics has been made cool.”

These three lawmakers won their state races as teens last fall. Each of them were recently sworn into office. Now the real work begins.

*Kansas has since passed a law that candidates must be at least 25 years old.

*Kansas has since passed a law that candidates must be at least 25 years old.

CALEB HANNA, Age at election: 19

West Virginia House of Delegates
Hometown
: Richwood, WV
Party: Republican

West Virginia House of Delegates
Hometown
: Richwood, WV
Party: Republican

One evening last November, Caleb Hanna sat with his parents in a McDonald’s, anxiously awaiting election results. The 19-year-old had campaigned heavily for a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates, knocking on hundreds of doors in an attempt to reach every Republican in his district.

The odds were seemingly against him—but by 10:30 that night, Hanna learned he’d toppled the Democratic incumbent by 25 percentage points. He celebrated with a burger and fries. 

Hanna first became interested in politics when Barack Obama won the White House in 2008. Like many African-Americans, he recalls his excitement at seeing “someone who looks like me become president.” But he soon soured on Obama’s policies; by 2012, he was a Mitt Romney fan.

In high school, Hanna tested out politics by serving first as class president and then as president of the student body.

As a Republican in the capitol, he plans to concentrate on education. For starters, he wants to introduce a technical course that will prepare middle schoolers for future careers.

“There are a lot of good-paying, high-skill jobs out there that don’t require a four-year degree,” he says. “We need to focus more on teaching kids about the opportunities in those fields.”

In an era of tremendous partisanship, he also recognizes a need to work with Democrats.

“It’s the only way to make effective policy,” Hanna says. “It’s like pulling on a piece of taffy. They pull from one side of the table, and you pull on the other side.”

One evening last November, Caleb Hanna sat with his parents in a McDonald’s, anxiously awaiting election results. The 19-year-old had campaigned heavily for a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates. He knocked on hundreds of doors in an attempt to reach every Republican in his district.

The odds seemed like they were against him. But by 10:30 that night, Hanna learned he’d beat the Democratic incumbent by 25 percentage points. He celebrated with a burger and fries. 

Hanna first became interested in politics when Barack Obama won the White House in 2008. Like many African-Americans, he recalls his excitement at seeing “someone who looks like me become president.” But he was soon turned off by Obama’s policies. By 2012, he was a Mitt Romney fan.

In high school, Hanna tested out politics. He first served as class president and then as president of the student body.

As a Republican in the capitol, he plans to focus on education. For starters, he wants to introduce a technical course that will prepare middle schoolers for future careers.

“There are a lot of good-paying, high-skill jobs out there that don’t require a four-year degree,” he says. “We need to focus more on teaching kids about the opportunities in those fields.”

In an era of intense political divides, he also recognizes a need to work with Democrats.

“It’s the only way to make effective policy,” Hanna says. “It’s like pulling on a piece of taffy. They pull from one side of the table, and you pull on the other side.”

Girl Scouts of the USA

Cassandra Levesque raises awareness about the marriage laws in her state.

CASSANDRA LEVESQUE, Age at election: 19

New Hampshire House of Representatives
Hometown
: Barrington, NH
Party: Democrat

New Hampshire House of Representatives
Hometown
: Barrington, NH
Party: Democrat

While working on a Girl Scout Gold Award project in 2016, Cassandra Levesque made a shocking discovery: New Hampshire, her home state, still allowed girls as young as 13 and boys as young as 14 to wed.

It took a lot of work, but Levesque eventually convinced her state lawmakers to make a change. In 2018, Governor Chris Sununu signed a measure raising the state’s marriage age to 16.

Thinking that was the end of it, Levesque went off to college to study photography. But when two seats in the state’s House of Representatives opened up, local Democrats urged her to run. 

Reluctant at first, she made a pros and cons list, and “all the cons started turning to pros,” Levesque, who recently turned 20, says. She filed to run on the next-to-last possible day.

Canvassing and attending local events as a candidate was scary at first. But she knew many people from growing up in town, and they were supportive of her on the campaign trail.

After being sworn into office in December, Levesque became a member of the Children and Family Law Committee, where she focuses on bills that help women and kids. She’s committed to raising the marriage age to 18, as well as figuring out ways to bring young people back to the state. Her youthful perspective is especially important, she says, because the average age in the state legislature is 66.

“I haven’t run into many people who think my age is discouraging,” she says. “They’re just excited that I’m there.”

While working on a Girl Scout Gold Award project in 2016, Cassandra Levesque found out about some shocking information. She discovered that New Hampshire, her home state, still allowed girls as young as 13 and boys as young as 14 to wed.

It took a lot of work, but Levesque eventually convinced her state lawmakers to make a change. In 2018, Governor Chris Sununu signed a measure raising the state’s marriage age to 16.

Thinking that was the end of it, Levesque went off to college to study photography. But when two seats in the state’s House of Representatives opened up, local Democrats urged her to run. 

At first, Levesque didn’t want to run, so she made a pros and cons list. “All the cons started turning to pros,” Levesque, who recently turned 20, says. She filed to run on the next-to-last possible day.

Canvassing and attending local events as a candidate was scary at first. But she knew many people from growing up in town. They were all supportive of her on the campaign trail.

Levesque was sworn into office in December. Shortly after, she became a member of the Children and Family Law Committee. As a member of that committee, she’s able to focus on bills that help women and kids. She’s committed to raising the marriage age to 18, as well as figuring out ways to bring young people back to the state. Her youthful perspective is especially important, she says, because the average age in the state legislature is 66.

“I haven’t run into many people who think my age is discouraging,” she says. “They’re just excited that I’m there.”

Courtesy Kalan Haywood

Kalan Haywood in the Wisconsin State Capitol, shortly after being sworn in

KALAN HAYWOOD, Age at election: 19

Wisconsin State Assembly
Hometown
: Milwaukee, WI
Party: Democrat

Wisconsin State Assembly
Hometown
: Milwaukee, WI
Party: Democrat

The importance of Kalan Haywood’s new role truly hit him when he first sat behind his desk in the State Capitol. The young Democrat hadn’t even been sworn in yet, but that didn’t matter.

“All the responsibility, the full weight of the job sank in at that moment,” he says. “I was like ‘I want to start now.’”

By age 8, Haywood already knew he wanted to be a politician. At 13, he worked on his first political campaign, collecting signatures and putting up signs for a local lawmaker. And a year later, he joined the Milwaukee Youth Council, eventually becoming its president.

Even with political experience, running his campaign for the Wisconsin State Assembly was a “whole other level of stress.” But he loved meeting diverse groups of people.

“That was one of the best experiences of my life,” he says.

His priorities include education, economic development, public safety, and encouraging youth civic engagement.

“I want young people running for all levels of government —state, town, city—or being campaign managers or chiefs of staff,” he says. “I don’t want to be the youngest in 2020.”

The importance of Kalan Haywood’s new role truly hit him when he first sat behind his desk in the State Capitol. The young Democrat hadn’t even been sworn in yet, but that didn’t matter.

“All the responsibility, the full weight of the job sank in at that moment,” he says. “I was like ‘I want to start now.’” 

By age 8, Haywood already knew he wanted to be a politician. At 13, he worked on his first political campaign. He collected signatures and put up signs for a local lawmaker. A year later, he joined the Milwaukee Youth Council, eventually becoming its president.

Even with political experience, running his campaign for the Wisconsin State Assembly was a “whole other level of stress.” But he loved meeting diverse groups of people.

“That was one of the best experiences of my life,” he says.

His priorities include education, economic development, public safety, and encouraging youth civic engagement. 

“I want young people running for all levels of government—state, town, city—or being campaign managers or chiefs of staff,” he says. “I don’t want to be the youngest in 2020.”

With reporting by Jose A. Del Real and Adeel Hassan of The Times.

With reporting by Jose A. Del Real and Adeel Hassan of The Times.

Ready to run for office?

First, contact the local branch of the party you’re interested in—or try Run for Office (runforoffice.org), where you can find out more about open government positions in your area. It even has a free online course that’ll help you kickstart your campaign.

First, contact the local branch of the party you’re interested in—or try Run for Office (runforoffice.org), where you can find out more about open government positions in your area. It even has a free online course that’ll help you kickstart your campaign.

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