Lacking A Voice in the Legislature, N.H. Millennials Get An Official 'Advisory Council'

Sep 22, 2017

Gov. Chris Sununu issued an executive order Thursday creating a new forum aimed squarely at younger Granite Staters: an official “Millennial Advisory Council.”

Sununu, who hails from Generation X and also holds the distinction of being the nation’s youngest sitting governor, wasn’t immediately available for comment on the new panel. So this author — who, in the interest of full disclosure, is also a millennial — caught up with a few of her fellow Granite State twentysomethings about what they want to see out of this new group.

An entirely unscientific survey on Twitter yielded a handful of suggestions, including: “commuter rail,” “improving childcare options and encouraging tech business growth” and “better internet speeds in remote areas.”

Twenty-three-year-old Molly Kepner, who is between jobs but most recently worked for the Bernstein Shur Group, said she was glad to see the governor making an effort to take millennials more seriously.

Kepner went to school outside of New Hampshire because, she says, it was cheaper, and is now trying to find her footing back in her home state. With that in mind, she hopes the panel looks at things like college costs and housing affordability.

And in her recent role as a lobbyist, she says she became starkly aware of how much the Legislature is dominated by people who are decades her senior — and she also hopes the panel looks at ways to get more people her age into decisionmaking positions.

“A lot of these legislators have a lot to say and a lot to provide, in terms of knowledge, but I think they also have a lot to learn from our generation,” Kepner said. “As much as I respect the people in the state legislature, a lot of them are very much my elder. And they’re making laws that, you know I hate to say it this way, they might not be around for 10 to 20 years down the road.”

At last count, there were only about two dozen people under the age of 35 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. (More than three-quarters of the House is over the age of 50, according to demographic data compiled by NHPR earlier this year.) 

One of the few millennials actually serving in the Legislature right now, Democratic State Rep. Amelia Keane, says the generational divide between her and fellow legislators can sometimes be jarring.

“One of my first experiences at the Statehouse was in orientation, and I was told there are over 40 representatives in the House who do not have an email address, which means the only way to access them is mail or landline,” Keane recalled. “And I was just astounded by that.”

That was one example, in her view, of how New Hampshire's Legislature can be too “stagnant” at a time when the rest of the region is trying to move forward. Another, she said, came when the House rejected an anti-discrimination bill to protect transgender residents.

Keane says she hopes the panel focuses on finding ways to make New Hampshire a more inclusive state, in addition to focusing on things like clean energy, affordable education and workforce retention.

“We’ve managed to lower the average age in the Statehouse to 60, which is below retirement age, but I would say the lifestyle of most of the people in the Legislature are not that of working families and students,” Keane said, adding, “I think a huge part of the brain drain that we see in New Hampshire is because of our lack of diversity, you know, in anywhere besides the cities.”

Kepner, a Republican, says she knows her generation sometimes can be easy for policymakers to scapegoat.

“You know, whether it’s not being able to afford houses because of like avocado toast, you name it,” Kepner says. “But I think a lot of millennials will tell you that those are kind of the outlier stories. A lot of us are here to work hard, raise a family.”

If this council can help to bridge the divide between the Legislature and its younger constituents, she says, it’ll be a step in the right direction.

Its first meeting, according to the governor’s office, will be next Wednesday and will be open to the public. The governor’s office says it’s still finalizing membership but has asked local chambers of commerce for recommendations of “civically engaged millennials.” They’re also accepting additional applications for review, saying they want a “politically and civically diverse” group.