DES MOINES — Iowa’s younger lawmakers are forming a millennial caucus to work across party lines to break partisan gridlock and address issues important to their generation today and in the future.
“We’re really committed to trying to figure out what are the issues that aren’t yet being talked about, that aren’t yet partisan, and how we make progress on those issues,” freshman Sen. Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, the youngest member of the Senate at age 27, said during the launch of the Iowa Future Caucus at the Capitol on Wednesday. “For us, these are not just issues that are going to be off in the future. 2050, for us, is not really that far away.”
He was joined by his three co-chairs Rep. Lindsay James, D-Dubuque, Rep. Joe Mitchell, R-Mount Pleasant, and Sen. Zack Nunn, R-Bondurant, as well as Sen. Zach Whiting, R-Spirit Lake. James, Mitchell and Whiting are freshmen legislators.
The Iowa Future Caucus is part of the Millennial Action Project, a nonpartisan 503c organization trying to launch a movement of young legislators who believe in transcending partisanship. Iowa is the 28th state to join the project’s State Future Caucus network, a bipartisan group of legislators 40 and younger.
The average age of Iowa legislators is 54.8, with ages ranging from 21 to 78. The caucus members said there are six senators and about a dozen representatives under 40.
Mitchell joked that at 21 he’s really Gen-Z rather than a millennial but said he is happy to be a part of the Future Caucus.
“This is one of the biggest things I’ve thought about in my time at the Capitol,” said Mitchell, who worked four years at the Statehouse before being elected in 2018. It seemed that working with the “other side” was frowned upon, he said.
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“That’s wrong,” Mitchell said. “The way we get back to making this country what it was supposed to be is if we can get along, if we can come together and have discourse with each other. This is a great way for people to be able to come together. I can call Zach and Lindsay my friends and they’re Democrats. That’s OK.”
The millennial generation generally refers to people born from 1981 to 1996, and Generation Z to those born from 1997 onward, according to the Pew Research Center.
“In order to find common ground we have to ascend to higher ground,” said James, 38, who added that there are too many barriers to legislators working together.
Nunn, 39, the oldest member of the caucus, noted that 88 percent of bills passed by the Legislature last year had bipartisan support.
“We’re not treading new ground, but trying to grow where there already is fertile ground,” he said.
The Iowa co-chairs said growing Iowa’s population and reversing brain drain are priorities for them.