Friday, June 25, 2010

Is There Such A Thing as Too Young?

By Marc Korman.

I am a proud, young(ish) Democrat. I have given endless hours and more money than my wife is comfortable with in support of young candidates. My first piece written for MPW was about the generational shift in the Montgomery County Delegation between 2005 and 2007. But lately I have spent some time pondering if there is such a thing as being too young for elective office.

One of the candidates in the Republican primary for Comptroller, Brendan Madigan, is 18 years old and about to start his senior year of high school. Kyle Lierman, a Delegate candidate in District 16, is 23 years old. Scott Goldberg, another District 16 challenger, is 27 years old. Eric Luedtke, District 14 Delegate candidate, is 28 years old. Does any of this matter?

Both Lierman and Goldberg cite to the same Maryland leaders who held elective office early. Ben Cardin was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates when he was just 24 and became Speaker at 35. Steny Hoyer was elected to the State Senate at 27 and was the youngest Senate President at age 35.

Others have also been young. Martin O’Malley was in his late 20s when he was elected to the Baltimore City Council and mid-30s when he rose to Mayor. Jeff Waldstreicher was just 26 when he was elected to the House of Delegates. Jeannie Haddaway from District 37B on the Eastern Shore was 26 when she entered the House. J.B. Jennings from District 7 in Baltimore and Harford Counties was 28 when he was elected to the House of Delegates in 2002.

The Maryland Constitution sets a minimum age for the House of Delegates and Senate at 21 and 25 respectively. Interestingly, it does not set an age for Comptroller but it does require the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to be at least thirty. There is no minimum age requirement for Attorney General, but an AG does have to have practiced law in Maryland for ten years prior to their election which will boost the age of any candidate.

Of course, it is not the age that matters at all but the experience and judgment. John McCain demonstrated nicely that you can be a grizzled old man and still lack the latter quality. During the 2008 primary, Barack Obama was regularly compared to John F. Kennedy. Obama was actually a bit older. He was 46 during the primaries, the same age Kennedy was when he was assassinated almost three years through his term. In fact, Obama was also older than Bill Clinton was when he took office.

Obama’s problem was not his age, it was convincing folks he had the experience and judgment necessary to be President. To briefly compare records, Kennedy was a war veteran, three term House member, and serving his second Senate term when he ran. Bill Clinton had been Arkansas Attorney General and Governor for twelve years. In my own view, Obama never quite showed he had the experience people commonly look for in president, but he did a good job showing he had the judgment running a disciplined campaign and demonstrating knowledge and wisdom on issues.

That is what young candidates need to do. They need to share their story and explain what they have done in their lives thus far to prepare them and demonstrate they have the good judgment to serve. Outside of the limits set by the Maryland Constitution, there is no age requirement and candidates should run when they feel they are ready. Then it will be up to the voters to decide if the candidate has assessed themselves appropriately.

Full Disclosure, I have donated to Eric Luedtke.