With Three New Lawmakers in their 20s, the Wyoming Legislature is Getting a Youth Infusion (Part 1)
Incoming representatives hope to inspire other young people to get involved
- Published In: Politics
- Last Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Daniel Singh, 25, is among a group of young men who will join the state House of Representatives next month. Today’s youth "have a perspective that’s completely different from older generations that have been around rural Wyoming for a long time," he said. (Courtesy photo from Daniel Singh)
By CJ Baker
Special to the Wyoming Truth
It took only about two minutes for Dalton Banks’ age to be used against him at a forum for legislative candidates.
“I would ask a very simple question,” said fellow state House of Representatives contender Tim Beck, as he opened with something of a broadside on Banks. “At the age of 24, 25, how much experience does a person really have at that age — just getting married, having not made really tough life decisions yet?”
Speaking a month ahead of August’s Republican primary, the 61-year-old Beck contrasted his “real” experience with Banks’ “exposure.”
But Banks, a public works operator for the Town of Cowley, didn’t miss a beat. Although the audience at the Cody library was supposed to remain silent, Banks drew some cheers when he noted he’s actually 27 — and he attributed some of today’s problems to the actions of older generations.
“We’ve got to stand up and say, ‘Look, you guys have started [us in] the wrong direction,’” Banks said. “And now I’m just married, and these things are going to affect my family, my future children. And nobody has a bigger stake in it than I do.”
Weeks later, voters endorsed Banks’ new direction, selecting him over three other Republicans. He finished nearly 300 votes and over 10 percentage points ahead of Beck, the runner-up, and he then ran unopposed in the general election.
That moment in Cody was the only time an opponent openly took a shot at Banks’ age, he said, but it came up frequently with voters on the campaign trail.
“That was probably my biggest hurdle that I had to get over,” Banks said in an interview with the Wyoming Truth.
He recalled people agreeing with his platform, then questioning his youth. But conversation by conversation, Banks won them over.
Banks wasn’t the only young candidate to find success this year, either. When Banks is sworn into the Wyoming Legislature next month, two other 20-somethings will be alongside him: 21-year-old Rep. J.T. Larson (R-Rock Springs) and 25-year-old Rep. Daniel Singh (R-Cheyenne).
The new arrivals in the 67th Legislature will reportedly help lower Wyoming lawmakers’ average age from 57 1/2 to roughly 54. Incumbent Rep. Ocean Andrew (R-Laramie), who is 28, will abruptly go from being the youngest member of the House to the fourth-youngest. In the upper chamber, where senators must be at least 25 instead of 21, Brian Boner (R-Douglas) remains the youngest member at 38.
“Young people are starting to realize that the only way to see the future they want is to become involved in the community across the board,” Larson said. A business agent for the Rock Springs Chamber of Commerce, he defeated a Democratic incumbent in the general election to become one of the youngest lawmakers in Wyoming history, if not the youngest outright.
It was a stinging loss for Wyoming Democrats, with longtime party member Mike Martin of Rock Springs recently dismissing Larson as “a 21-year-old who does not even have an associate’s degree.” However, that appears to have been a minority view: Larson – who actually holds an associate’s degree in business management and is wrapping up a bachelor’s degree in accounting – said none of the voters he encountered raised concerns about his age. And he won over 60% of the vote.
For his part, incoming Speaker of the House Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) sees the influx of young lawmakers as a positive development for the Legislature.
“I think it’s good to have people that represent all sectors of society, so certainly age is a part of that,” said Sommers, who is 63. “It shouldn’t just be all old guys like me.”
“You have to fight for it”
Getting more young people involved in politics has long been an elusive goal for the state. Voter data shows that Wyomingites between the ages of 18 and 29 have historically been the least likely to cast a ballot. In the 2016 general election, for example, only a little over a third of Wyoming’s 18- to 24-year-olds voted, as compared to over two-thirds of residents in their 70s.
Boosting turnout among young people has been an aim of the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office in past years, though those efforts have recently been eclipsed by a focus on election integrity. Youth turnout has fallen far enough down the priority list that the office told the Wyoming Truth it doesn’t have any voter demographic data on-hand for the past three election cycles.
Larson, Banks and Singh all hope their wins encourage others from their generation to participate in the political process — not just by voting, but by running for office.
“We need perspective from everybody,” said Singh, who works as a shift leader at Starbucks. “And if young people don’t get involved, then no one’s going to speak up for us.”
Singh said many in his generation feel disenfranchised by the political process and mistakenly think they can’t make a difference.
“They feel like … their representatives are alien, they cannot contact them, they don’t understand them. They don’t feel adequately represented,” he said.
Singh thinks it’s important for young people to get involved with party politics, noting the big decisions made in Wyoming’s primary elections. He won a three-way Republican race in August, then went unopposed in November’s general election. Yet it’s rare to spot young adults at Republican Party events, he said.
“When speakers come in, and they mention Generation Z, all the heads turn to me and the other guy that happens to be the same age,” Singh said, describing young people’s participation in the party as “abysmal.”
Banks, who made an unsuccessful run for Big Horn County Commission in 2018, tried starting a young Republicans group in his area, but it didn’t take off.
“I couldn’t get people involved,” he said.
Singh said many people his age “are just depressed” and feel alone. Multiple studies have indicated that an outsized percentage of Gen Z — those now between the ages of roughly 10 and 25 — struggles with anxiety, depression and suicide.
Singh hopes to help tackle those problems as a legislator.
“Part of the reason why I chose to run was to show people my age — or anybody, really — that it is possible to grab life and to chase your dreams and to accomplish what it is that you want to accomplish,” he said. “But you have to fight for it, and to stand up and fight for it. It doesn’t happen just by wishing that things were different.”