Younger generations could be gamechangers in Fort Bend politics
By S. Barot
For The Star
Fort Bend County is challenging the widely accepted notion that American youth are not interested in politics or running for office.
If the 2016 Presidential Election is any indication of national political participation demographics, the 40 and under population is grossly underrepresented. Some political pundits claim the younger demographic is indifferent to the political process and some say they do not want to repair a system they feel is broken.
Youth wariness of politics and political participation has roots that run deep to their teen and college years. Typically, young people don’t become property owners – one of the main constituents of politicians – until they’re in their late 20s or early 30s.
“I wish more young adults would take a leadership role in state, local and federal government,” said Steve Brown, former Fort Bend County Democratic Chair and one of four candidates in the District 27 State Representative Democratic Primary. “It’s our generation’s time to lead, but for some reason we seem to be acquiescing to the generation that preceded us.”
Brown, a 40-year-old Missouri City resident, is challenging three-term incumbent Ron Reynolds.
Reynolds, at 42 years old, is the elder statesman of the primary’s quartet of candidates, with fellow candidates Angelique Bartholomew and Chris Henderson both in their 30s.
Like Reynolds, Brown became involved in politics early. His first job out of college was working in the Clinton Administration’s Legislative Affairs Office in the 1990s.
Brown added that there is definitely a leadership age gap in Fort Bend that is partially due to a lack of political engagement by young adults.
While political apathy may be a role for 20-somethings, individuals find a new set of challenges to entering politics in their 30s and early 40s – chief among them raising a family and building a career.
But there are exceptions.
This year’s race for District 85 State Representative will see 22-year-old Richmond native and current Stephen F. Austin State University senior John L. Davis IV running against Republican incumbent Phil Stephenson in November. Davis’ Facebook page is somewhat of a battle cry for the young generation to get involved in politics.
“It’s time for our young people to step up and help us to bring a new voice and vision to Texas Politics,” Davis said on Facebook.
Davis is completing his degree in Nacogdoches, but he’ll be back in Richmond by the spring. State law says his primary residence must be within the district, if and/or when he is elected.
Davis said he feels younger people should get involved because the decisions that are made in Austin and Washington reflect and affect the younger generation both directly and indirectly.
He believes that his age is a strength because he can connect with his voting peers, but he doesn’t think that age is a qualifier for leadership.
Sugar Land City Councilman Himesh Gandhi, a 35-year-old two-term incumbent, said his reasoning for running was to give back to the community.
Gandhi, an attorney by profession, was elected to Sugar Land City Council and became the youngest at-large councilman in the history of the city when taking office at the age of 35.
“Being involved as an attorney and having that background and having a love for the City is really what made me want to join Council,” Gandhi said. “Politics is doing a community service, at the end of the day.”
Gandhi and Missouri City council member Chris Preston are two of the few Fort Bend council members under 40 years old.
Gandhi added that he spent several years “laying the groundwork” on boards and commissions to get a better understanding of municipality governance. Gandhi said that any prospective public servant should put in the time and effort to get a better understanding of what they are getting into. He served on the Sugar Land’s Planning & Zoning Commission, Sugar Land Development Corporation and Sugar Land 4B Corporation, which are all development-oriented commissions.
Gandhi said that his professional and political backgrounds supersede any questions that others may have about his age. Like Davis, he believes that age might be one of his biggest strengths.
“I see age as being a positive and an advantage I have because I come from a different background and have a youthful excitement and way of looking at things,” he said. “That provides a different perspective from the other council members.”
Party leaders have also taking notice of the younger demographic.
Fort Bend Democratic Party Chairman Don Bankston said some of the young generation who belong to his party and are actively involved in political participation, have gone onto campaigns for unsuccessful Houston Mayoral Candidate Adrian Garcia and presidential candidate Martin O’Malley.
“Part of the responsibility lies in the party,” Bankston said. “We need to do a better job. We’ve been trying to reach out to young people and sending the message – get involved.”
The same is true for the other side of the aisle. Fort Bend Republican Party Chairman Mike Gibson said his party is starting to engage youngsters before they graduate college.
Although the Democrats have a wider variety of younger candidates, Republicans have made inroads with the growth of the Fort Bend Young Republicans and student Republican Clubs at five different high schools in the County.
“In five to 15 years, the next generation of leaders will be stepping forward,” Gibson said. “We are getting them ready for that now.”