It’s no secret that many political leaders who represent the local, state, and federal governments are older. The national median age is 38 years old, yet the average age of members of the House of Representatives is 59 and the average age is 63.9 in the U.S. Senate. Out of the 50 U.S governors, 32 of them are 60 or older.
The U.S government doesn’t reflect the growing young demographic that it is supposed to represent. Millennials and Gen Z have grown to become the largest voting bloc, and some believe that their open-mindedness, values, and passion for social justice provide hope at a time when the trust in government is at a low point.
There are concerns that when young people are disconnected and disengaged from the political process, a major portion of the population has little or no voice in the decisions that impact their lives.
Dexter McCoy is the candidate for Fort Bend County Commissioner, Precinct 4. As a young millennial, he wants to stay politically engaged by running for office and gaining a seat at the decision-making table. He spoke to the Defender to give insight on youth participation in the voting process and his experience running as a young candidate.
Defender: Who is Dexter McCoy and what is your connection with the community here?
Dexter McCoy: I’m a husband and soon-to-be child and it will be a baby girl so I’m super excited about that. I’m a product of this community. I grew up in Mission Bend where I met the love of my life who is now my wife. We met when we were 12 years old. I’ve had great opportunities to work in the Obama administration to come back being a district administrator in Fort Bend ISD for a number of years and most recently to have served as chief of staff to our Fort Bend County judge. I’m deeply engaged and passionate about this community. And while I could have stayed in D.C. and had a lucrative career, I came back because this is where my heart has always been.
Defender: Was seeking political office a career goal or did you transition into the idea?
McCoy: I went to school and graduated with a degree in journalism and a minor in political science. I’ve always been interested in how our public institutions work for people. It’s actually one of the reasons why I love journalism because I learned how to ask critical questions and get a real understanding of what’s on the ground and connect with people to come up with solutions. My interest in public service sparked in 2004 when soon-to-be Senator Obama gave his speech at the Democratic National Convention. When he said the line, we have to eradicate the slander that Black children reading a book is acting white, that spoke to me.
I was bullied a lot in school because I was different than what the stereotyped Black person should be. Even his example of service is something I desire to emulate and I carried that through my time as student body president and chair of the Boston council of undergraduate student presidents. I got to work on a lot of issues in the greater Boston area like public safety and transportation. I’ve always had an interest in public service. Running for office at this time wasn’t something I was planning on, considering my desire to want to build and grow a family, but this tugged on my heartstrings and I had to jump in.
Defender: What are things young people feel need to happen in order to feel included in the voting process?
McCoy: We often hear folks say “the younger voters are apathetic. They don’t care,” and I don’t believe that. I think it’s more so a failure of folks to give people a reason to participate. If all you’re seeing are the same old folks in rooms where decisions are being made, why would you want to participate? What needs to happen is that we need to open the doors of government. We have to be far more transparent about what the government does.
There are select groups of people in government across the country that benefit from a lack of transparency. That’s why you see people in public office who didn’t start off with a whole lot and by the time they’re done, they are living in multi-million dollar homes. We also have to demand leaders in public office to open up opportunities for mentorship. We have to demand that it be a part of the responsibility of elected officials to train other people in the community, particularly younger people.
Defender: How has running for political office been for you? What are the pros?
McCoy: It’s actually exciting. I was just overwhelmed by the amount of support that we’ve received. I can’t tell you the number of folks who’ve prayed over me in their doorways, my fervent volunteers are people who three months ago I didn’t even know. The encouraging text messages and phone calls help remind me that we ate doing the right thing.
I’ve learned a lot about the intricacies and mechanics of politics. It takes a lot of money. I’ve had to get comfortable asking people to contribute to my campaign. I use to [believe] that people shouldn’t be spending all the money on campaigns and the main focus of the campaign shouldn’t be fundraising. This is still true, but I’ve learned that it’s a public service to ask people to contribute to a cause like this, and you need those resources in order to get your message out to the greatest number of people to motivate them to take interest in your cause.
Defender: What are the challenges?
McCoy: Your boy is tired! The early morning calls. I start getting calls from folks at 6:30 in the morning and I’ll work until late at night. It’s a hard thing that people need to prepare for, especially at a time when my wife and I are expecting. I’m blessed with the support of my wife and family. Also, there is a realization of just how dirty people can be sometimes during campaigns, especially when you remain focused on what you’re trying to do in your messaging. There are people who often try to take you off your path and their pettiness starts to come in. I hate that I’m putting a positive spin on everything, but it’s truly rewarding.
Defender: Party establishments often view young candidates as outsiders. How were you able to set the tone with your opponent?
McCoy: I have to be very clear about why I’m in the race. The party insiders aren’t the ones who vote, it’s the residents. The folks who are outside of the loop of the inside politics, they are the ones going to the ballot boxes. Having the support of the party is helpful for resources that you can leverage, but ultimately matters little. Some people told me to stay out of [the race], especially when I was appointed as chief of staff to our county judge. I was talking about running against one of his colleagues from our own party, and it came with a lot of pushback.
People told me that I would be seen as a liar or a cheater if I ran, and It’s like “for what?” because I don’t agree with the status quo? I was told it was going to be a lonely pursuit and that my career in politics would be over. My main concern was to elevate the most pressing concerns of the people in my community. So, if I lose, I lose. I already have great work that I’ve done and continue to do for the community and I’ll go back to doing that. This isn’t the only way I can contribute to making a difference.