Website art for Leaders We Deserve
Website art for Leaders We Deserve, courtesy of the PAC

No teenag­er in mod­ern Amer­i­can his­to­ry has been on the receiv­ing end of such vit­ri­ol as David Hogg, the media-savvy gun safe­ty advo­cate who sur­vived the mas­sacre of sev­en­teen stu­dents and staff at Mar­jorie Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Flori­da, and record­ed his class­mates’ reac­tions while it was tak­ing place.

Nor has any teenag­er fought back with such skill. When FNC host Lau­ra Ingra­ham post­ed on col­leges which had reject­ed Hogg’s entrance appli­ca­tions, he caused two dozen adver­tis­ers to with­draw sup­port from her show.

Ingra­ham was forced to apologize.

Hogg, now twen­ty-three and a recent­ly mint­ed Har­vard grad­u­ate, has just co-launched a polit­i­cal com­mit­tee called Lead­ers We Deserve, designed to sup­port Gen­er­a­tion Z and mil­len­ni­als run­ning for pub­lic office.

It will put boots on the ground and mon­ey in the cof­fers of leg­isla­tive can­di­dates under thir­ty and con­gres­sion­al aspi­rants under thirty-five.

The bulk of sup­port is slat­ed for leg­isla­tive races, designed to build Democ­rats’ “bench” of upward­ly mobile office­hold­ers. “Lead­ers” is stress­ing a trio of issues: They are gun safe­ty, repro­duc­tive rights and response to the cli­mate crisis.

Hogg and the first Gen­er­a­tion Z mem­ber of Con­gress, Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Maxwell Ale­jan­dro Frost, were camped in Vir­ginia – more accu­rate­ly, on the road – this past week­end drum­ming up sup­port for young can­di­dates run­ning for leg­isla­tive seats in the Old Domin­ion. The Vir­ginia House of Del­e­gates in nar­row­ly con­trolled by Repub­li­cans while Democ­rats cling to a two-seat major­i­ty in the State Sen­ate. All seats are up on Tuesday.

“Join me @GrassrootsDemHQ tonight to call vot­ers, help take back VHD and pro­tect the Sen­ate,” Frost wrote on Twit­ter. Hogg boost­ed can­di­date Lily Franklin at Vir­ginia Tech Uni­ver­si­ty, then drove across the state to New­port News to join Mary­land Gov­er­nor Wes Moore in stump­ing for can­di­date Mon­ty Mason.

“If stu­dents at Vir­ginia Tech turn out and vote they could win this race and make it a major upset,” Hogg wrote on Twit­ter. “If that hap­pens, Repub­li­cans will have a lot hard­er of a time weak­en­ing gun laws.”

Hogg has seem­ing­ly been every­where. He was with Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na stu­dents in gal­leries of the state leg­is­la­ture, protest­ing lack of action on gun safe­ty after a shoot­ing episode on the Chapel Hill cam­pus. He was in Birm­ing­ham, Alaba­ma, boost­ing can­di­date Sylvia Swayne in a spe­cial leg­isla­tive election.

He was also at the White House last month as Pres­i­dent Biden announced cre­ation of an Office of Gun Vio­lence Pre­ven­tion to be over­seen by Vice Pres­i­dent Kamala Har­ris. With Repub­li­can block­ing action on such leg­is­la­tion as an assault weapon ban, the pres­i­dent took exec­u­tive action to keep focus on gun violence.

Hogg is a fight­er and a play­er. He used not one, but two pro­fan­i­ties to describe Repub­li­cans’ attempts to con­fuse stu­dents in Vir­ginia about their abil­i­ty to reg­is­ter and vote. Over the last year, how­ev­er, he has endorsed incre­men­tal change and dia­logue. He backed the small steps tak­en to keep guns out of dan­ger­ous hands when Con­gress passed the Bipar­ti­san Safer Com­mu­ni­ties Act. He is the son of a for­mer FBI agent and pub­li­cizes his trips to a prac­tice range.

Gen­er­a­tion Z and mil­len­ni­als began to show strength as a vot­ing bloc in the 2018 midterm elec­tions, which gave Democ­rats con­trol of the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the first time since 2008.

Only thir­teen per­cent of vot­ers under thir­ty turned out in 2014, but twen­ty-eight per­cent cast bal­lots four years lat­er, accord­ing to fig­ures com­piled by Tufts University’s Cen­ter for Infor­ma­tion Research on Civic Learn­ing and Engagement.

The fig­ure last Novem­ber was twen­ty-three per­cent, but a look at the map shows where the Z’s and mil­len­ni­als made a dif­fer­ence. The high­est under-thir­ty turnout was in Michi­gan, where Democ­rats flipped con­trol of the leg­is­la­ture and abor­tion reform won a big major­i­ty. Gov­er­nor Gretchen Whit­mer and her run­ning mate, NPI alum Gar­lin Gilchrist II, were reelect­ed in a land­slide. A sec­ond high state, Min­neso­ta, saw Democ­rats gain full con­trol of the Legislature.

The Democ­rats won tight Sen­ate races in Penn­syl­va­nia and Ari­zona, and nar­row­ly elect­ed a gov­er­nor and attor­ney gen­er­al in Ari­zona. Under-thir­ty vot­ers turned out in both states. They turned out in num­bers high­er than the nation­al aver­age in Wash­ing­ton, Col­orado and Geor­gia. Repub­li­cans pro­fessed to have hopes of unseat­ing Sen­a­tors Pat­ty Mur­ray, Michael Ben­net and Raphael Warnock.

Mur­ray and Ben­net won land­slide vic­to­ries, while Warnock defeat­ed Repub­li­can Her­schel Walk­er in the nation’s most expen­sive U.S. Sen­ate contest.

The low­est youth turnout came in states of Okla­homa, Alaba­ma, Indi­ana, West Vir­ginia and Ten­nessee, all of them Repub­li­can bas­tions in which Democ­rats fared poor­ly. Repub­li­can gov­er­nors were reelect­ed in Okla­homa, Alaba­ma, and Tennessee.

Lead­ers We Deserve did­n’t get a win in one ini­tial con­test. It backed Syl­va­nia Swayne, a can­di­date who is trans­gen­der, for the leg­is­la­ture in Alaba­ma. Swayne lost by a two-to-one mar­gin to fel­low Demo­c­rat Travis Hen­drix, a Birm­ing­ham police sergeant.

Still, Lead­ers We Deserve deserves support.

It is a brain­child of Hogg and Kevin Lata, who man­aged Frost’s cam­paign for Con­gress in Orlan­do. Frost, twen­ty-six, is a for­mer orga­niz­ing direc­tor of March for Our Lives, the move­ment start­ed by sur­vivors of the Mar­jorie Stone­man Dou­glas shoot­ings. He has also worked for the Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union.

Nor has Hogg lacked for atten­tion on Capi­tol Hill.

A video gone viral shows him walk­ing down a street in the nation’s cap­i­tal, being pur­sued by then future Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mar­jorie Tay­lor Greene of Geor­gia. Greene is shout­ing abuse at Hogg for his effec­tive lob­by­ing of Congress.

Lead­ers We Deserve was par­tial­ly inspired by the “Ten­nessee Three,” leg­is­la­tors who refused to shut up as the Repub­li­can-dom­i­nat­ed Ten­nessee Leg­is­la­ture refused to take up gun safe­ty leg­is­la­tion. Leg­isla­tive gal­leries in the Vol­un­teer State were packed in the wake of the Nashville mas­sacre which saw three adults and three chil­dren slain. The shoot­er fired off 152 rounds.

A pair of young African Amer­i­can law­mak­ers, Justin Jones and Justin Pear­son, were expelled from the Ten­nessee State House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. A third, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Glo­ria John­son, kept her seat by one vote. Both Jones and Pear­son were prompt­ly giv­en pro­vi­sion­al appoint­ments by their coun­ty com­mis­sions, and lat­er won back their seats in spe­cial elections.

John­son is chal­leng­ing ultra MAGA Repub­li­can Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Mar­sha Black­burn, who offered “thought and prayers” for Nashville vic­tims but has opposed all gun safe­ty legislation.

Hogg put it on the line in announc­ing Lead­ers We Deserve: “Far-right extrem­ists are will­ing to let chil­dren be slaugh­tered at school and watch our plan­et burn for per­son­al gain. But badass young peo­ple have a habit of being under­es­ti­mat­ed and scar­ing the shit out of Repub­li­cans by prov­ing our power.”

Young vot­ers helped stop what pun­dit elders and Repub­li­can poll­sters pre­dict­ed would be a “red wave” in 2022. Remem­ber those sur­veys by Moore Infor­ma­tion and Trafal­gar show­ing Tiffany Smi­ley in hot pur­suit of Pat­ty Murray.

Well, Democ­rats kept con­trol of the U.S. Sen­ate and Mur­ray has become the sec­ond woman to chair the Sen­ate Appro­pri­a­tions Committee.

Lead­ers We Deserve is on the web here if you’d like to fol­low their work.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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