September 22, 2008
Andrew Edwards and Jeff Fontas are 21-year-old college students and the youngest legislators in the country. Edwards is majoring in biochemistry at Worchester Polytechnic University in Worchester, Massachusetts, and Fontas is a political science and criminal justice major at Northeastern University in Boston. They were elected in 2006 to the New Hampshire state legislature representing their hometown of Nashua, NH. Their rise to elected office was aided by harnessing new technologies and has been chronicled in a new book called Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube & The Future of American Politics. They are active members of the netroots community and have started their own blog, Millenial Draft.
Andrew and JF talked to Campus Progress about the power of Facebook, bringing a fresh perspective to politics, and what they want to do when they “grow up.”
CP: How did you decide to run and what motivated you to become politically engaged?
: For me especially it was kind of like where these two separate veins in my life came together. On the one hand, I’d been really absorbed in national politics and thinking about what is going to happen with the Democratic party and the 2006 election. I think we both understood that something very big was going to happen. We weren’t sure what the scope of it was going to be but we knew that things would be changing. But we also kind of wanted to have a stake in what direction we chose to go in at the same time. We didn’t want to just sit back and watch it all happen. We wanted to make sure that we got it right this time and for us it was really our first time. So we just kind of dove right in when the opportunity arose. It was just where everything sort of connected for us and we saw ourselves actually have influence in helping shape what direction the country was going to take.
CP: What did the people around you think—your friends, your peers, people you met during your first years at college, your families? Was there skepticism or excitement or both?
: I think there was a certain level of skepticism. I think it came about because what we were doing was just so unorthodox. It wasn’t something that was traditionally done by young college students. Especially in New Hampshire—the average age of [state] representatives is 60 years old! So this wasn’t something that was expected and I think in that respect, the surprise led to skepticism until we actually proved ourselves and proved that we were serious about doing the job. The skepticism finally died down is when we proved that we were serious about the job and showed that we could actually do it—that definitely helped us out.
: I think there’s a broader skepticism we face because people didn’t feel like we “paid our dues” somehow. That’s one thing I’ve been noticing a lot with people from our generation in lots of different undertakings but especially in politics. You know, paying your dues is a measure of how invested you are supposedly. Who you owe, who owes you what—that’s the only thing people can use to quantify you. Otherwise, you are just an unknown quantity. We were two young people coming into it with political views that no one really knew. I think when we first got elected people weren’t really sure how we got elected, they weren’t sure if we were loose cannons, how loyal we were, how hardworking we were, what our motives were. A lot of people when we first got there kept asking us why we ran. Sometimes it was in an encouraging way, like we were doing a good thing. But a lot of other people just seemed to be perplexed and very skeptical and guarded.