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The generation that will pay

"The generation that will pay" Continued...

Issue: "Border bandits," Dec. 3, 2011

Twenty-four-year-old Weston Wamp believes, "The debt-paying generation will rise to the occasion in this country." Wamp is running for a seat in eastern Tennessee once held by his father, eight-term Republican Rep. Zach Wamp. The elder Wamp made an unsuccessful bid for governor of Tennessee in 2010, and Republican Chuck Fleischmann won the seat Wamp vacated.

Wamp started his own marketing firm in Chattanooga, Tenn., after graduating from the University of Tennessee in 2009. He works about half time on his business and half time on his campaign. He will turn the qualifying age of 25 in March 2012. Wamp denied that he feels entitled to his dad's seat, but said that he absorbed political knowledge and wisdom by growing up around his dad and his dad's friends. "[Republican Sen. Tom] Coburn is like an uncle to me," Wamp said. "Frankly, I think they need some reinforcements from our generation ... the framers of the Constitution made the age 25 for a reason."

Wamp's contention with Fleischmann is that he votes along party lines. Fleischmann has voted with his party 95 percent of the time, but he bucked Republican leadership on at least one major vote, casting a "no" on the debt ceiling deal along with 65 of the more conservative members of the House. "Another thing our generation has to bring to the table is a willingness to work across party lines," Wamp said, though "not compromise for the sake of compromise." Bipartisanship is only imagined on Capitol Hill right now, but it's an aspiration shared by other millennial candidates. Brett Lindstrom, 30, running as a Republican for a seat in Nebraska, commented, "You do have to work across party lines ... I'm more than happy to listen to Democrats' ideas."

Gill and Wamp are bachelors, but others like Lindstrom are married and brand new fathers. On average, millennials may be delaying life decisions like marriage, but Lindstrom said almost all of his friends are married: "Maybe it's partly the Midwest." Two years ago he and his wife Leigh received invitations to 17 weddings in one year, and "now we're all having kids at the same time."

Lindstrom, who was a quarterback for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, finds little time to sleep between his regular job as a financial adviser, the campaign, and caring for his 4-month-old daughter. Lindstrom's wife also works full-time, while family members help care for their baby during the day. "It sounds like it's crazy, but it's not undoable," Lindstrom said. He admits he and his wife have had some "discussions" about balancing the campaign with a new baby, and related lack of sleep.

On the campaign trail he's taken part in seven parades so far, and he's learning to be more comfortable approaching people in a café and introducing himself. When he's not campaigning or being a father, his role as a financial adviser has him working with retirees who he says are often as fearful of their economic future as his generation is. "The generation above us, they haven't been very good stewards of [public] money," he said.

On the other side of the country, another sleep-deprived father of a 5-month-old is running for Congress. Evan Feinberg, 27, moved his young family back to his roots near Pittsburgh, Pa., to run in the primary against Rep. Tim Murphy, whom Feinberg terms an "Arlen Specter Republican."

Feinberg, a Grove City College graduate, worked at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., and then on the staff of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. His wife Sarah is an officer in the Marine Corps Reserves and an Iraq War veteran. Aside from working on Capitol Hill, Feinberg's political experience is limited to chairing the College Republicans, but he brushes off criticisms about his young age, calling it an "asset." "[Murphy]'s going to have the bigger problem convincing folks that his age and experience qualify him for serving in Washington," Feinberg said.

But the question of experience is a serious one. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., won his seat one week after his 29th birthday, and for his first two terms he was the youngest member of Congress. He's in his fourth term now. Even though McHenry was young when he came into office, he had already served as an assistant to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao during the Bush administration and served a term in the North Carolina General Assembly.

"You have to have some amount of experience to be effective," McHenry said. "It's the nature of the world-you have to prove yourself as a young person no matter what career path you choose." He ticked off the 30-somethings who won seats in the 2010 election and their political experience: 35-year-old Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., served on the Montgomery city council; 39-year-old Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., was mayor of Corning, N.Y.; and others served in state legislatures. (He added that starting a business and starting a family are good experience, too.) McHenry is glad to have some other younger colleagues now. "You have more 30-somethings on the Republican side than I think we've ever had," he said. As a result of the 2010 elections, the average age of House Republicans dropped from 56.5 to 54.9, while the average age of House Democrats rose from 58 to 60.2.

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