A Rarity At The N.H. Statehouse: For One Night, Millennials Run The Show

Sep 28, 2017

The scene: the Executive council chambers. The time: 6 p.m. on a Wednesday. The crowd? A mysterious, oft-stereotyped (and sometimes maligned) species, seen only rarely in the halls of the Statehouse: millennials.

They were there as part of a newly formed Millennial Advisory Council, announced last week by Gov. Chris Sununu.

At the inaugural meeting of the council Wednesday night, about two dozen twenty- and thirty-somethings drawn from all corners of the state spent the evening hunched over notebooks and half-eaten pizza slices, trying to brainstorm ways to make New Hampshire a better place to live for young adults.

For context: There were roughly the same number of people under age 35 involved in this meeting as there are, in total, in New Hampshire's House of Representatives.

The governor, who joined the group for the start of the meeting, said the council's members were selected largely by soliciting recommendations from local chambers of commerce. 

“I cannot tell you the number of phone calls we got from people all across the state wanting to be in this room,” Sununu told the group, asking them to make a point of finding ways to involve other interested participants in their work. “This is a highly coveted table right now.”

Sununu’s office, after announcing the council last week, invited interested applicants to submit resumes and cover letters. It’s unclear whether any of those were considered, or whether the seats were already filled.

Acting as the council's chair is Alex Fries, a recent University of New Hampshire graduate who works as a special assistant to the governor.

Two of the members selected for the council actually pitched such a council to the governor in the first place: Austen Bernier, of Albany, and Jessica Wright, of North Conway, proposed the idea at a graduation ceremony for a Mount Washington Valley leadership program in June.

The group assembled at the inaugural meeting included an engineer, a contractor, an advertising rep and an employee of the National Forest Foundation, to name a few. Their stated concerns ranged from things like student debt, to housing affordability, to finding a way to promote the fact that yes, there are actually cool things for young people to do for fun around here.

Cory LeClair, an assistant superintendent from Claremont, was cautiously optimistic about what she heard from her peers sitting around the table.

“Being in public education and being the recipient of a lot of top-down style mandates, when folks start talking about all of the things we could be doing, I think it’s just important to be cognizant of how those actually become implemented and carried out across the state,” she said.

LeClair also hopes the panel is cognizant of all regions of the state — including more rural ones — when deciding what issues to tackle.

“I represent sort of the Western half of the state, and not all of our towns are super affluent. There are jobs, but they’re not necessarily the same types of jobs you’re seeing in other areas. We’re not a bedroom community to Boston,” she said on her way out of the meeting. “So, how can we focus on improving life for millennials and others in an area where, perhaps, the playing fields are a little bit different?”

After an hour and a half, the group left with a list of initial priorities and a plan to reach out to other millennials across the state for more input. They plan to meet again in about a month. By December, they’re tasked with presenting an initial list of recommendations to the governor for review.

The group might have hit the ground running and might have the support of the state’s top executive, but then there’s another question. Will the people who hold most of the power on state policy decisions — a Legislature where the average age is at least 60 — be eager to listen to what these young constituents have to say?

*Insert shrug emoji here*