Are New Jersey’s candidates for governor overlooking an important factor as they search for lieutenant governor running mates?
To date, it appears that the candidates have been seeking to balance their tickets by choosing a running mate whose ethnicity, gender, ideology and/or geography brings balance to the ticket.
But one important factor that has been absent from the discussion about balance is age.
Governor Jon Corzine is 62. Chris Christie, his Republican opponent, is 46. But the gap between their ages is not nearly as wide as the gap that separates the two of them from millennial generation voters — individuals who were born between 1981 and 1990. This is a group that played a critical role in last year’s presidential election, and its members should not be taken for granted in this year’s campaign for governor.
The current crop of lieutenant governor candidates, however, does little to narrow the gap between millennials and the political establishment in New Jersey. Of the names that have surfaced as potential running mates – Democrats Barbara Buono, Doug Palmer, Albio Sires, Bonnie Watson Coleman and Loretta Weinberg and Republicans Jennifer Beck, Kathe Donovan and Diane Allen — only one (Beck) is under 55. (Two 40-year-olds, Democrat Cory Booker and Republican Thomas Kean Jr., were regarded as possible lieutenant governor candidates until each indicated he was not interested in the post.)
It is easy to argue that age should not be a factor. People are living and working longer than ever today, making productive contributions to society. And there is no substitute for the experience and institutional knowledge that any of these possible lieutenant governor candidates would bring to the job.
But perception often is more important than reality in the world of politics.
The most important responsibility of the lieutenant governor is to assume leadership of the state should the governor leave office – either by choice, or due to illness, accident or even death. With this in mind, a bright and energetic running mate could be perceived as an asset. The lieutenant governor, like the governor, needs to be just 30 years of age, according to the New Jersey State Constitution. To appeal to younger voters, a candidate need not be in his or her early thirties, but he or she must be someone who understands that the issues and priorities of millennials are markedly distinct from older citizens.
Beyond perception, there is a practical reason for selecting a running mate who can appeal to younger voters. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University found that some 23 million individuals under the age of 30 voted in the 2008 presidential election – an increase of 3.4 million from the 2004 election.
“The 2008 election not only marked the election of America’s first African-American president, it also saw the strong and clear political emergence of a new, large and dynamic generation and the realignment of American politics for the next 40 years,” Morley Winograd and Michael Hais wrote in a piece for NDN, a think tank and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.
For political parties in New Jersey and elsewhere, there is an advantage to reaching out to young voters that may extend far beyond a single political campaign. According to the Century Foundation, a public policy research institution with offices in New York and Washington, D.C., “Studies point out that voting is habit forming, with the odds increasing significantly that, once a person has voted, he or she will vote again, indicating long-term impacts on parties and politics.”
Lastly, there are intangible benefits to bringing young people into the process. They have more at stake in the long-term future as opposed to short-term gains – a factor that can lead to sounder public policy decisions. In addition, what they lack in experience can be offset by the fresh approach they bring to issues that have been unresolved for years.
A few years ago, I went back to school to earn a Ph.D. in media studies. It has been a great experience, and a big part of this positive experience has been what I have learned from professors who are younger than I am and students who are even younger. My generation – Democrats and Republicans alike – has left the State of New Jersey with plenty of problems. As we search for solutions, a good place to find them may be with our next generation of leaders.
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