By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY — Several Alabama lawmakers are launching a new bipartisan caucus focused on solving partisan strife and problems facing young Alabamians.
Caucus co-chairs Rep. Christopher England (D-Tuscaloosa) and Rep. Kyle South (R-Fayette) joined by seven other millennial-aged lawmakers, announced the creation of the Alabama Future Caucus on Thursday.
The caucus is made up of lawmakers of ages 40 and under who are concerned with the youth and future of the State of Alabama, England said Thursday.
“This caucus is bipartisan, it’s diverse, and we are ready to work,” England said.
The caucus is launching as part of a movement in State Legislatures across the country and Congress intended to unite younger lawmakers and find common ground on a wide range of issues, England and South said.
Though the caucus has no organized legislative platform, Rep. David Faulkner (R-Birmingham) said the caucus could focus on issues that affect young people, such as legislation to develop ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.
“That’s something that this generation is very interested in, and it helps a lot of people in our state,” Faulkner said. “I’m proud to be with my colleagues here next to me to form this group in Alabama so that we can work toward those issues together in a bipartisan way.”
The caucus also plans to focus on issues like student debt and clean energy, according to the Millennial Action Project. The Alabama Future Caucus will be part of the MAP’s nationwide effort to create millennial caucuses across the country.
According to the US Census Bureau, millennials of ages 18-34 make up nearly 30 percent of Alabama’s population and more than 30 percent of the workforce. They are underrepresented in State Legislatures across the country, holding only 5 percent of seats despite making up more than 30 percent of the voting-age population, according to Pew Research Center.
Underrepresentation in combination with increased partisanship is causing young people to ignore the political process, according to Steven Olikara, the president of the Millennial Action Project.
“Because of the dysfunction that we are seeing today, so many young people are disaffecting from the political process, and that is a fundamental threat to our democracy,” Olikara said. “Over 30 percent of the population is in this 45-and-under demographic, so there is a huge opportunity here to engage this new generation of leaders and citizens. That’s why we are here.”
Millennial caucuses sponsored by MAP are now in 20 states and the US Congress, according to Olikara, making it the largest nonpartisan millennial political organization in the country. The caucuses hope to put more young lawmakers on “the path to bipartisanship and cooperation.”
“I think it is very important as we move forward in this country that we work together in a bipartisan manner,” House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels said. “I think the citizens of Alabama and citizens all across this country have seen the gridlock that exists at the federal level. This is an awesome effort for us to work in a bipartisan manner to work on behalf of the citizens of Alabama.”
Several members of the new caucus said they hope to focus on education and issues that affect college students through bipartisan means.
“What an awesome opportunity for those of us on both sides of the aisle, both Democrats and Republicans, to come together around common issues,” said Rep. Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham). “Right now, in this country, as it relates to politics, it’s so divisive. This group provides us the opportunity to come together and find common ground.”
In 2013, when the government shut down, partisanship increased to a near-disastrous level, Olikara said, but he said he believes there is a rising generation of young leaders, all across the country, who are standing up to take on the cause of bipartisanship.
“They are less jaded,” Olikara said. “They are actually optimistic about making change. They’re early adopters of new approaches and new technologies. They’re less beholden to special interests, and they have a relentless focus on the future not only because they have that kind of vision, but we’re going to be inheriting these challenges in the future.”
Olikara said he hopes the group of millennial Legislators in the Alabama State House can be role models for a healthier political process.
“I believe firmly that if we can demonstrate real impact and results through public service, more young people will engage in the process,” Olikara said. “One thing a lot of people forget is that young people today have one of the highest service-participation rates in the country. We are a highly idealistic generation.”