Kalan Haywood always knew he wanted to be involved in electoral politics, ever since he met Mayor Tom Barrett when he was just 8-years-old during a groundbreaking ceremony for his family’s real estate business.
He didn’t wait too long to fulfill that desire. Haywood, running as a Democrat in Milwaukee’s 16th Assembly district, won a primary this summer, and faces no Republican opposition for the seat in the general election, according to reporting from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He’s almost assuredly set to be sworn in this January, and at age 19, that will make him the youngest current legislator in the entire U.S.
“I am not aware of any legislators younger than 20 at the moment, so it is likely that if a 19-year-old was just elected that he would be the youngest state legislator out there,” National Conference of State Legislatures policy specialist John Mahoney said.
Haywood understands the standard difficulties that will come with the job — including some unique to him, stemming from critics who will characterize him as being “too young” to understand the complexities that come with it. But he considers his youth to be a net positive, not a negative, going forward.
“My age is my biggest asset,” Haywood said.
— Jim Owczarski (@MKECLERK) September 28, 2018
He went on to explain how the Wisconsin state legislature too often discounts younger citizens. “The state Legislature as a whole — they are missing a young person’s perspective,” Haywood said.
The representative-elect already has some lofty goals for improving civic engagement for young people across the state. A recently passed state law requires students to pass a civics exam in order to graduate from high school. Haywood, a Democrat, sees an opportunity to bridge partisan lines (the original bill passed with broad Republican support), and to amend the law to include requiring students to register to vote.
“Adding the requirement of registering to vote is very important, especially in my district where we get a very low turnout compared to a total population,” Haywood explained.
Haywood is not unfamiliar with politics, either: he comes into office having spent many hours volunteering for his predecessor, current Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee). Haywood has been involved in Bowen’s campaigns since he was 13 years old.
Bowen is supportive of his successor and impressed by his plans to implement voter registration for high school students across the Badger State. “I think its great he’s going to start a conversation to say we need to require certain things of our young people so they are better prepared for life after school and being civically engaged,” Bowen said.
Haywood also wants to raise the minimum wage and address reforming the criminal justice system in the state, according to an article he wrote for the Milwaukee Courier. Wisconsin regularly ranks as one of the worst states across the countries on issues of racial disparities, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.