By ALI SCHMITZ
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Joshua Higginbotham took his grandmother to vote for the first time last fall. At 77, she’d never entered a polling place.
This election was special for her, he said. That’s because she was able to vote for her grandson.
Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, is now West Virginia’s youngest lawmaker. He is 20 years old. He believes he won because he spent months meeting with people and telling them about his beliefs.
“It’s humbling knowing that such a large percentage of the people in my district had the faith in me, such a young person, knowing that it was a risk,” Higginbotham said.
His interest in politics started in 2008 after Barack Obama was elected president. Higginbotham authored three books by the time he was 18, was a page in the U.S. Senate and led the state’s DECA (a business organization for high school and college students) chapter his senior year of high school.
“It helped me prepare not only my decision-making but it also gave me the ability to understand the issues themselves,” Higginbotham said.
He said throughout it all, people in his hometown, Poca, cheered him on.
“I love the people there. I’ve always gotten to know everyone, whether it’s at the sporting events, or at the county fairs,” Higginbotham said.
Higginbotham arrives at his office at 7 a.m. for constituent meetings. After that, he hits the ground running. He’s co-sponsoring dozens of bills during the session about issues from election reform to road maintenance to funding for public broadcasting.
While Higginbotham is the youngest delegate in the state, he isn’t the only millennial. Saira Blair, R-Berkeley, is only 12 days older than him. Ben Queen, R-Harrison, is 22.
Higginbotham said he believes part of the reason millennials keep winning seats is because of older voters who find them inspiring.
“Not to bash elected officials from the past, but there has been a lack of passion and energy with a lot of these folks. It’s almost as though they want to get elected over and over again without making a real difference,” Higginbotham said. “With these young people, we have that passion, and we’re real and sincere.”
Higginbotham said the decision to run for office was simple. Although he was offered multiple jobs out of state, he stayed in West Virginia because he wanted to improve his home. He urged millennials to stay in the state, or return, to use their skills.
“It’s not about the paycheck,” he said. “I didn’t want to go, because it’s home.”
He said he will continue in politics as long as he continues to be elected. He is interested in pursuing a higher office one day. For now he said he’ll keep answering phone calls, emails and meeting requests from his constituents. He also expanded a college scholarship program he runs from Putnam County to his entire district.
He said anything he does will reflect the issues his constituents bring to him.
“It’s ultimately up to what the voters want. It’s ultimately up to what the people decide, and what is important to them,”
As people become more interested in politics, Higginbotham encouraged them to become more involved with the political process. He encouraged people to listen to policies on both sides of the aisle and be respectful to those who disagree with them.
“Everyone thinks all you have to do politically is vote. No. Hold your elected officials accountable,” Higginbotham said. “I’m not even talking about Trump. I’m talking about people like me, Gov. [Jim] Justice. If we do things that are not what we campaigned on, or what we promised, or what the values of our state are. Hold us accountable and ask us questions.”
See more from the Charleston Gazette-Mail