‘They’re fired up:’ LG Austin Davis says of Pa.’s young voters | Thursday Morning Coffee

Pa.’s Second-in-Command makes list of young leaders to watch

By: - May 11, 2023 7:15 am
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Austin Davis (Photo by Amanda Mustard for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star).

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Austin Davis (Photo by Amanda Mustard for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star).

The data shows that young voters, especially young voters of color, — in Pennsylvania and beyond — played a key role in Democrats’ electoral successes in the 2022 midterm elections.

And now as Democrats look to retake the U.S. House, expand their majority in the U.S. Senate, and hold the White House in 2024, the progressive advocacy group NextGen America has enlisted emerging leaders nationwide to bring those same voters to the polls next year.

Among them is Pennsylvania’s Democratic Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, a former member of the state House from Allegheny County, who got a jump on his own political career when he was still in high school in McKeesport, near Pittsburgh.

Davis, 33, the nation’s youngest lieutenant governor — and the commonwealth’s first Black LG — recently was named the group’s Gen10 lista cadre of young leaders who have been tasked with “bringing generational change to our country,” the group asserts on its website.

As he surveyed the state’s political landscape ahead of next week’s municipal primaries, and the presidential election yet to come, Davis told the Capital-Star that he’s confident that young voters will come out in the same numbers they did in 2022, when they helped send him and Gov. Josh Shapiro to Harrisburg, and U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., to Washington.

“I’ve crisscrossed the commonwealth meeting with young people, and they’re fired up,” Davis said this week. “They’re concerned about gun violence in our communities. They’re ready for a generational shift. I think they recognize that they have a lot of power, and that they can make a difference in their community.”

That’s a conclusion borne out by the data.

Research by Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) released just after Election Day last year showed that about 27 percent of voters aged 18-29 cast a ballot in the crucial midterm cycle, marking the the second-highest youth voter turnout in almost three decades.

“I absolutely do believe that young people will continue to engage the political process this year and as we head into 2024,” Davis told the Capital-Star.

Lt. Gov. Austin Davis (D) addresses the Pennsylvania Press Club on Monday, 2/27/23 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek).

In addition to Davis, other young leaders named to NextGen America’s list include: climate activist Zahra BiabaniU.S. Rep. Greg Casar, D-Texas; Virginia state Assembly candidate Nadarius ClarkNorth Carolina Democratic Party Chairperson Anderson ClaytonU.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla.Southern University NAACP Chapter President Ashanta K Gleason1Hood Media Education Director Jasmine Green; Wisconsin state Rep. Francesca Hong, and Earth Uprising International founder Alexandria Villaseñor.

“We have, over the years, mobilized millions of young voters, and also engaged thousands of volunteers and staff, as a democracy corps that we are building across the country,” NextGen America President Cristina Tzinztun Ramirez, told the Capital-Star. “Young elected officials are at the foregone of shaping what young voters think democracy can and should be.”

And Davis, an emerging leader, from a key 2024 battleground state, was a natural fit for the list, Tzinztun Ramirez said.

“Pennsylvania is such a critical state … and to have the youngest lieutenant governor and the state’s first Black lieutenant is incredibly inspiriting not just to young people, but [he’s] also a voice that we wanted to elevate nationally as well,” Tzinztun Ramirez told the Capital-Star.

Then-candidate Austin Davis campaigns on the campus of Temple University in Philadelphia on Nov. 5, 2022 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek).
Then-candidate Austin Davis campaigns on the campus of Temple University in Philadelphia on Nov. 5, 2022 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek).

Davis told the Capital-Star that he plans to “meet these voters where they’re at,” and to “tell them they can be more than just a voter, that they can run for office.

“When I was elected [to the state House] I was 28 years old,” he said. ” … I will do everything I can to fire up that base and push them to do more.”

With a network that’s been in place statewide since at least the 2016 presidential cycle, Tzinztun Ramirez said NexGen similarly plans to stay busy getting young voters out to the polls in 2023, where key races for the Philadelphia mayor’s office and Allegheny County executive will be on the ballot.

“Over the years, we have contacted millions of young people. Last election contacted 90 percent of young eligible voters across the state,” Tzinztun Ramirez said. “When we keep young people engaged on the municipal [primary], that gets them engaged for the general. We will be mobilizing people to get out and vote in the municipal elections, where there is less turnout, and young people will have a greater impact.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.