Changing attitudes will likely allow progress by 2030 on such polarizing issues as climate change, student debt and redistricting as millennials take the political stage, a panel said Sunday at the Cap Times Idea Fest.
The groundwork is laid on the issue of climate change, said Steven Olikara, president and founder of the Millennial Action Project.
“A majority of millennial Republicans think climate change is real and want to do something about it,” said Olikara, whose nonprofit organization works with millennial policymakers on “post-partisan” cooperation.
Olikara was part of “Campaign 2030: What will the issues be?” one of dozens of offerings in the first Cap Times Idea Fest. The series of conversations with more than 60 leaders from politics, the economy, education, journalism and culture presented Saturday and Sunday at UW-Madison campus.
Other panelists were: Chelsea Duffy, legislative and PAC director for Wisconsin Right to Life; Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now; and Myranda Tanck, communications director of Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. The panel was moderated by Cap Times reporter Katelyn Ferral.
There’s about to be a lot of progress on climate change, Olikara said, adding that even before the recent devastation by Hurricane Irma, Republican Florida legislators told him: “We don’t have the luxury about having a partisan political debate about this.”
Challenges by some Republicans on the state and federal levels to scientific finding that burning fossils has caused the globe’s climate to change has to date stalled government intervention.
Tanck said that she, too, has seen widespread, passionate support by millennials across political parties for policies to counter climate change. “We’re the ones who will be here for it; our children and grandchildren will see the devastating impacts if it is not taken care of,” she said.
Duffy offered that action on climate change issues will be sped up as more people see news reports about the impact of storms and other weather events on people in places like Florida and around the world.
“We’ll move forward on this as our age moves forward,” she said.
Generation X-er Ross bemoaned the lack of bipartisan support for student loan debt relief. State Republicans have defeated Democratic-sponsored legislation to allow refinancing of student loans several times, and relief measures in Congress also were thwarted by Republicans, he said.
“We cannot continue to function if the entrance to the middle class is a pathway to decades of indentured servitude,” Ross said.
Millennial Tanck said she knows she did not fully understand the documents she signed when taking out student loans and called for more financial education as one step.
Millennial Duffy said student debt can be controlled by some hard choices, like she made, to work hard while in school and maybe finish in less than four years.
“Maybe there need be more efforts at the school level to coach students on how to make college more affordable,” she said. “All my debt is paid off.”
Politicizing issues like the drawing of congressional districts is harmful not only because of the unfair advantage gerrymandering gives one party over another, but because it erodes trust in the system, Olikara said.
“It should be a nonpartisan issue,” he said. If political control seesaws back and forth as majority parties draw maps to hold on to power, “it sows more and more resentment between political parties,” he said.
The incentives for elected office become perverted, he said, and officials are forced to serve either bases at the extreme ends of ideological spectrum or the wealthiest donors.
“Younger elected officials feel legislating in a broken political system is not effective,” Olikara said.
Because of gerrymandering of congressional districts to favor Republicans, there were no competitive elections in the latest round in seven of eight districts in the state, Ross said.
That means a lack of discussion, and vigorous media coverage, of the issues, he said.
Incumbents "can say whatever they want,” Ross said. And if politicans are talking not about voters’ issues, there’s no reason for them to show up at the polls.
Tanck said many millennials don’t want to be involved in the two-party system.
That’s why “independent” is the fast growing political affiliation in the nation, Olikara said. “They call us the ‘a la carte’ generation. We often do not fit cleanly into a partisan box.”
But, he allowed, that can make it hard to win elections in a system dominated by political parties. “It blocks a lot of young talent from getting involved in public service.”