Seniority counts for a great deal in most state legislatures. Veteran members often move up the ladder of leadership and get the best committee assignments. But the youngest member of the Indiana General Assembly, Tim Wesco, has discovered that youth has its advantages too.
The 25-year-old knows, for example, how to effectively use social media such as Twitter to keep in touch with constituents in his Northern Indiana district.
Wesco also has a physical advantage. Legislative races are often won through face-to-face contact with voters, and Wesco captured a Republican primary last year with vigorous door-to-door campaigning.
Also on his side is a large, close-knit family of 10 children; he's number six. He received plenty of campaign help from his brothers and sisters. A firefighter, Wesco also has worked in the family piano business in Elkhart, Ind., as a technician and has had jobs in the RV industry.
Plus, youth is not necessarily a handicap with voters. Mitch Harper, now a city councilman in Fort Wayne, Ind., was elected to the state House at age 22 in 1978. Like Wesco, he discovered that older voters are willing to look at a young person running for office.
"Folks want to invest in a growth stock," Harper said. "They see a Jim Banks [a state senator elected last fall at age 30] or a Tim Wesco with their potential for the future. People like Tim Wesco can talk about issues in a fresh way, not repeating old catch phrases."
Democratic state Rep. Peggy Welch of Bloomington thinks that Wesco's faith in Christ has helped with his transition into public life. Wesco was a disciplined participant in a nonpartisan early morning Bible study with fellow lawmakers during the recent legislative session. "He was quiet, but when he spoke it was thoughtful," Welch said. "Whether you are young or old, there are temptations you have as a legislator. You can get caught up in the rush of being important. Having his strong family and a strong faith walk can only help him."
Barack Obama's supporters dreamed that his 2008 victory represented a revival of big government liberalism. But the 2010 election suggested a different trend, and Wesco is part of a large wave of conservative youth. His generation, born in the 1980s and 1990s, has produced more social and fiscal conservatives per capita than did the baby boomers.
The parents of some of these conservatives, including Wesco's, taught their kids themselves, offering their children something better than the public schools. Many were raised in the Christian faith as well and believe in a mix of fiscal conservatism and traditional social values.
The current Republican presidential field is missing a candidate who can articulate this perspective to a larger audience. But the emergence of strong young conservatives like Tim Wesco could have quite an impact on future elections.