Richmond Times Dispatch- Jared Calfee: Listen to the millennials

Jared Headshot.jpg

Five percent. One percent. Two percent. Four percent.

Virginia has become one of the country’s most competitive swing states, as evidenced by these margins of victory in our last four top-of-the-ticket, statewide elections. The polls indicate that we may be in for another photo-finish on Tuesday.

In a Virginia where late election nights have become the new normal, every vote matters more than ever, and politicians with designs on winning elections would be wise to appeal to Virginia’s now-largest voting bloc: millennials.

Millennials are nearly 30 percent of the electorate here in the commonwealth, meaning college students and young professionals are now the most powerful subset of political decision-makers.

If you want to win an election in a state where elections are always close, you’re going to need the young people on your side. And the best way to get young people on your side is to pay attention to their issues.

Young Virginians have different backgrounds, different political beliefs, and different aspirations, but we can all agree on a few things:

First, we know that our votes are just as important as the votes of our parents and our grandparents, and so our issues deserve to be taken seriously.

As part of Virginia21’s #The30Percent campaign, young Virginians across the commonwealth are filling out postcards to be delivered to the winner of the Nov. 7 gubernatorial election to show the new governor which issues matter to us the most.

Second, we agree that the cost of higher education in Virginia is untenable. With an unparalleled selection of public universities, private universities, and community colleges, Virginia’s higher education system remains arguably the best in the country — and is still the best investment young Virginians can make in their future.

But for a variety of reasons — the biggest being inadequate state funding — higher education has become unaffordable for many Virginians.

It is critically important for our colleges to remain high-quality, affordable, and accessible for everyone here in the commonwealth. This strengthens our economy, helps alleviate poverty, and makes Virginia more attractive to businesses from around the globe.

We were very happy to see that both major-party candidates for governor have released detailed plans addressing the rising costs of higher education.

Finally, we all want to find good jobs. The Great Recession was difficult for everyone, but it was especially difficult for young Virginians graduating from college only to find that nobody was hiring.

As our economy continues to recover, we are now battling the effects of sequestration, and many young Virginians are still unemployed or underemployed.

A vibrant, thriving workforce is good for everyone, and we want to guarantee that our diverse generation has a clear path to success that suits our different goals.

That can mean attaining a certificate or workforce credential through our community college system.

It can also mean taking an internship or apprenticeship while in school that leads to full-time employment later on. It is crucial to foster these pathways to success, whatever these pathways might look like.

Our status as a swing state means that candidates from both parties have a viable chance of winning. In this political environment, election results aren’t based on the letter next to your name, they are a consequence of the policies that you propose and the values you stand for.

In a state where election margins are often less than 5 percent, a third of the electorate can decide winners and losers. Young Virginians may very well decide who our next governor is on Tuesday.

Virginia’s millennials are talking about what matters to them, so our elected officials and those hoping to become elected officials would do well to listen.

Jared Calfee is executive director of Virginia21, and may be contacted at Jared@virginia21.org.