Saira Blair has become the youngest lawmaker in U.S. history. The 18-year-old West Virginia University (WVU) freshman managed to beat out her 44-year-old opponent, attorney Layne Diehl, during the General Election on Tuesday, November 4 for a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates. Her landslide victory has made her the youngest elected official in America.
The conservative Republican WVU student, who is an economics major and intends to become a financial planner, will represent a small district in the state’s eastern panhandle. Blair defeated her Democratic opponent by a wide margin of 63 percent to 30 percent of the vote. She will represent the 59th District in West Virginia, which is located about 90 minutes outside of Washington, D.C.
As Saira Blair has managed to become the youngest elected lawmaker in U.S. history, the WVU freshman touted herself as a pro-gun, pro-life, pro-business Republican and ran the majority of her campaign from her college dorm room. She also advocated for small business and even smaller government. Additionally, Blair’s political platform also included stances against the minimum wage, support for voter ID regulations, reduction of certain business taxes, and anti-union support, as well as the belief that welfare recipients should undergo random drug testing.
Much of Blair’s success at the polls could be attributed to the changing political, economic, and social climate in the state of West Virginia. West Virginia is coal country, and for decades, the industry’s strong unions have ensured Democratic dominance at the ballot box. However, circumstances have changed in recent years. New mining technology has seriously impacted the labor force and affected the potential Democratic constituency. The industry itself has shrunk dramatically, due to emission regulations. Moreover, the Democratic Party has introduced measures to not only regulate emissions from coal plants, but purify the mining industry and practices itself and covert it to a more ecologically sound industry. Given the drastic change in circumstances, it has been suggested that coal miners would rather hedge their bets with a Republican Party that might be anti-union, but is all for industry and has a strong pro-coal stance, rather than a Democratic Party more focused on climate change concerns.
However, labor issues are not the only factors that have shifted the political make-up of the state. While West Virginian Democrats might have backed the party’s pro-union agenda, many constituents were not necessarily on board with its social agenda. Compared with the Democratic Party’s other East Coast strongholds, West Virginians have always tended to be a whiter and more socially conservative demographic. This trend began at the turn of the century. Having supported Democrats every year for more than seven decades, West Virginia turned towards Republican candidates in 2000.
Saira Blair’s landslide victory, which has made her the youngest elected lawmaker in U.S. history, should not only be attributed to shifting political, economic, and cultural trends beyond her control. The poised and articulate candidate had proven her intent and resilience in a strong showing of support in May 2014, when she handily defeated 66-year-old Republican Larry Kump in the a primary election. She was only 17 years old and not even able to vote at the time. Additionally, Blair contributed nearly $4,000 of her own money toward her campaign in order to show voters her serious intentions. Moreover, political blood runs in the WVU freshman’s veins as her father, U.S. Senator Craig Blair, is a Republican member of the West Virginia Senate. Not to mention the fact that volunteers stuffed envelopes with more than 4,000 handwritten notes for constituents during her campaign.
As Blair has managed to become the youngest elected lawmaker in U.S. history, the WVU freshman, who touted herself as a pro-gun, pro-life, pro-business Republican and ran the majority of her campaign from her college dorm room, is currently putting her dreams on hold after this semester and has decided to defer her spring semester in order to attend the legislature’s 60-day session. She will make up classes in the Summer and Fall of 2015.
By Leigh Haugh
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