There’s no denying that the 2015 municipal elections were a setback for Connecticut Democrats.
We now have to grapple with the return of Joe Ganim, of course, but we also fell short in recapturing New Britain and Bristol, two of the three largest cities lost to Republicans in 2013. All over the state, Democrats did little better than treading water, scarcely making any progress in weakening the Republicans’ grip on local government. This comes on the heels of Republican gains in 2013 and 2014. Put simply, the trend for Democrats is not good.
There is a way to reverse this trend, however — embrace young people. And I don’t mean pandering to them by making Buzzfeed lists of “17 Times Dan Malloy was Bae” or whatever. I mean giving young people a real stake in our party.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy is perhaps the best example of this. At age 25, Democrats gave him the opportunity to run against a 14-year incumbent state representative, and with the energy and passion of youth, he made the most of it. Not every young candidate will turn out to be Chris Murphy, of course, but none of them will if we don’t give them a shot.
Republicans certainly realize this. Two of the big winners last week are young Republicans with a future: Tim Herbst and Erin Stewart. Herbst, who nearly knocked off longtime state Treasurer Denise Nappier last year, is perhaps the Republicans’ best hope to reclaim the governor’s mansion in 2018. And as for Stewart, Democratic Party insiders are already fretting about the possibility of facing her in a congressional or statewide campaign.
Democrats have their fair share of up-and-comers, too. Ganim’s victory in Bridgeport overshadowed the fact that Hartford voters elected 36-year-old political neophyte Luke Bronin in a landslide. A veteran and Rhodes scholar, Bronin is a dream candidate for Democrats; there’s no limit to how high he could fly in the political arena. His election is great news for the long-term future of the Connecticut Democratic Party.
And Bronin was not the only young Democrat with a future to win this year. Despite the Republican mayoral victory in Bristol, voters re-elected 23-year-old Democratic Councilor Calvin Brown. Brown has now been elected to the Council in back-to-back Republican years, and should be the top recruit to take back the 77th House district in 2016, which Democrats lost last time around.
At the state level, Democrats have a deep bench full of talented young pols. State Senators Mae Flexer and Gary Winfield, and state representatives like David Alexander, Matthew Lesser, Sean Scanlon, and Caroline Simmons give me hope that our party will have strong candidates in the years to come.
But despite Bronin, Brown, and the rest, Democrats are still not doing enough to bring young people into our party. Defenders of the status quo might point to the Republicans and say “We’re doing better than they are,” but this is both false and beside the point. New state Republican Party Chairman JR Romano seems to have made reaching younger voters a greater priority for the Republicans, and Newington’s Max Turgeon has turned the Connecticut High School Republicans into an effective recruitment tool for the party.
State Republicans have done this even as their platform and national candidates become less and less appealing to today’s youth. Young voters are not a significant part of the Republican Party’s coalition — if they’re making inroads with the younger generation, the time to panic is now. In 2010, voters under 30 were the only age group who gave Malloy more than 51 percent, and he lost voters over 44. In a close election, young voters make the difference between victory and defeat for Democrats.
This means Democrats need to get serious about bringing young people into the party. When I talk to my peers, they are passionate and excited about the issues that matter to us, but they are deeply skeptical of the system. This is because we haven’t done enough to show them the important role they can play in making change.
Democrats should be actively seeking young candidates to run for office, or to serve on DTCs. And when a young person shows interest, we as Democrats need to go above and beyond to keep them interested and engaged, and to show them that they have a future. If we don’t do this, one of two things will happen — either young people will go to war with the party establishment, or they will walk away altogether. Either scenario would be a disaster for our shared Democratic values. Connecticut Democrats can prevent this, and reverse recent Republican successes, but only by making room at the table for my generation.
Kiernan Majerus-Collins, 20, is a student at Bates College and a Democratic Town Committee member from West Hartford. He can be reached on Facebook
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