Pamela Goldsmith is the Senior Communications Director at the Millennial Action Project.
In a convergence of young state lawmakers from across the country, Future Summit 2023, hosted by Millennial Action Project (MAP), galvanized nearly 70 promising young legislators, transcending partisan divisions to coalesce around a common goal — to shape the future of governance. Representing the expansive Millennial and Gen Z lawmaker community within MAP’s State Future Caucus Network (SFCN) — spanning 35 states, these emerging leaders gathered in Indianapolis, Indiana on the IUPUI campus for a transformative four-day event.
In an era marked by political polarization and complex challenges, the annual Summit plays a pivotal role in collectively shaping the trajectory of policymaking for young legislators. Providing a vital platform for relevant discussions and collaborative endeavors, its impact extends far beyond its four-day duration, empowering this group of lawmakers to transcend party affiliations and focus on common ground.
Shared Vision Across Party Lines
During the recent Summit, Colorado state Rep. Jennifer Bacon, a Democrat, highlighted invaluable lessons she gained in recognizing the potential for bipartisanship amidst differing perspectives across party lines. She said her three-year journey in the legislature unveiled pivotal progress achieved in partnering with her conservative counterparts. Bacon says her approach has been a continuous effort to bridge divides. Recognizing the complexities inherent in addressing sensitive issues like qualified immunity for law enforcement, she opted to humanize herself and the experiences of her community saying, “I recognized the value of building camaraderie and relationships, and extended the courtesy of inviting colleagues to visit our district and also visited their districts in order to foster a deeper understanding.” She shared her elation at having the support of Sen. Byron Pelton, a Republican, and his Senate colleague, who co-sponsored a bill concerning offender eligibility for release from confinement — that successfully passed in June 2023. This legislation helped pilot a program aimed at cultivating skills for incarcerated individuals. Bacon says that the process of initiating important conversations and amplifying the voices of her constituents via committee discussions and testimonies proved effective, providing a gateway to continuing bipartisan conversations. She noted, they are almost there on many fronts —each significant step taken representing an inspiring move toward a more united political landscape.
It was precisely that spirit of finding commonality that propelled Arkansas Sen. Breanne Davis, a Republican, and Rep. Jamie Scott, a Democrat, to collaborate on a state bill they reflected on at the event. Their combined efforts culminated in the successful championing and passage of the CROWN Act, a crucial stride toward eradicating hair-based discrimination. The genesis of their partnership can be traced back to getting to know one another through a Future Caucus meeting, a testament to the Summit’s core ethos of fostering bipartisan connections. Moreover, the Arkansas Future Caucus declared the passage of 39 bipartisan bills enacted in 2023, all of which were sponsored by Gen Z and millennial members. They attribute this achievement to the concerted efforts of state legislators uniting to find common solutions, despite differing perspectives.
Welcoming lawmakers on day one, Millennial Action Project President and CEO Layla Zaidane reminded attendees, “Future Caucus offers an opportunity to untie your hands and not only reinforce belief in yourself, but to build trust with somebody new. Because when we work together, small actions lead to big changes in ways we never could imagine.”
Key Policy Issues: Small Actions, Big Results
Focusing on the essence of ‘Small Actions, Big Results,’ Future Summit set its sights on addressing an array of pressing policy matters, resonating with both millennials and the wider population. Energy and the environment, affordable housing, criminal justice reform, challenges and opportunities presented by AI technologies, and viable approaches to addressing complex societal issues were central topics under discussion. Policy areas reflected the ever-growing urgency for action on issues directly impacting the future of our society. Lawmakers engaged in constructive dialogue and identified common ground while sharing and generating ideas for bipartisan policy solutions.
One of the Summit’s key sessions underscored the importance of leadership development and bridging differences through interactive exercises and case study discussions, guiding lawmakers in navigating political differences to increase cross-partisan policy making. Dr. Ted Johnson, Senior Advisor for New America's flagship US@250 initiative, Dr. Rachel Kleinfeld, Sr. Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Rep. Casey Toof, of Vermont and Holly Wise, Manager of Solutions Journalism Network, led conversations on strengthening civic engagement and cultivating a more inclusive and representative political system.
Relevant exchange of views by other featured speakers and expert insights examined strategies to enhance transparency, safeguard voting rights, and empower marginalized communities in the decision-making process. Speakers encouraged participants to think beyond party lines, collaborate with those holding differing viewpoints and envision a collective future that transcends ideological divisions.
Future Caucus member, Kansas state Rep. Tory Blew, a Republican, said her Summit conversations with lawmakers centered on concerns over fuel tax and affordable housing across states. Commenting on the impact of widespread polarization in the state legislature, Blew said, “Oftentimes there is a commonality and agreement on different policies we’d like to see implemented on both sides; it’s just that the avenues in getting there are different.”
Additional speakers included Stan Wilcox, Executive Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at the NCAA, discussing strategies that facilitate constructive dialogue in a polarized political landscape; and state Rep. Dawson Holle (R-ND), the youngest elected lawmaker in the history of North Dakota at age 19. Securing his seat in the state’s 2022 election and shepherding several bills to passage over the past year, Holle took part in a panel exploring the drive behind increased participation of younger generations in the political process and the implications of their involvement. He discussed the importance of listening to constituents and understanding their needs.
In a session centered on cultivating brand identity, positioning, and storytelling, Julie Jensen, Founder & CEO of Jasper Advisors, imparted her insights and personal narratives drawn from her tenure at the helm of the Washington Football Team’s communications and public affairs functions during the team’s rebrand.
Transforming the Future of Governance
The hallmark of Future Summit and the Future Caucus Network is exemplified in its ability to bridge partisan gaps and unite young legislators from across the broad political spectrum committed to driving progress.
Zadaine believes the Future Caucus network is poised to reshape the trajectory of governance one policy at a time, saying, “Events like Future Summit are an important reminder that any one legislator who is doing the hard work of bridge building is not alone. Other young people have their back; MAP has their back and there are millions more people out there who want to see them succeed. Our job is to connect them to those tools, to those people, and to each other so they might transcend political polarization and find solutions to the problems they were elected to resolve.”