No Party for This Young Man: A Millennial Storms the Gates of Washington

Independent congressional candidate Nick Troiano launches bid to bring generational change to Congress.

Nick Troiano, Co-founder of The Can Kicks Back, speaks at a discussion about Generational Equality and the National Debt at the JFK Jr. Forum at the Harvard Kennedy School.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
April 6, 2014, 8 a.m.

Nick Troi­ano star­ted a small busi­ness, ran a non­profit group, and was named “Fu­ture Lead­er of Pike County” in Pennsylvania be­fore turn­ing 25. Like most mil­len­ni­als, he loves pub­lic ser­vice — but only when it quickly and clearly im­proves his com­munity.

Many mem­bers of his gen­er­a­tion (young adults born between 1982 and 2003) are drift­ing away from polit­ics and gov­ern­ment be­cause they be­lieve there are bet­ter ways to help people, us­ing the con­nectiv­ity of tech­no­logy to feed their pas­sion for so­cial en­tre­pren­eur­ship. Not so, Troi­ano.

He’s an in­de­pend­ent can­did­ate for Con­gress in Pennsylvania’s 10th Dis­trict. If you be­lieve, like I do, that polit­ics needs an in­jec­tion of young dis­ruptors, you hope that Troi­ano is the fu­ture — now.

“If I win, it will send a sig­nal to Wash­ing­ton that you bet­ter watch out, that there’s a huge gen­er­a­tion of mil­len­ni­als poised to dis­rupt polit­ics as usu­al,” Troi­ano told me be­fore an­noun­cing his can­did­acy Sunday. “We’re about to turn things up­side down.”

Des­pite Troi­ano’s prag­mat­ic and for­ward-look­ing plat­form, his youth­ful en­thu­si­asm and in­tel­li­gence, the odds are stacked again him. He’s run­ning against a Re­pub­lic­an in­cum­bent, Rep. Tom Marino, who won reelec­tion in 2012 by a ra­tio of nearly 2-to-1.

“Troi­ano has cer­tainly gained more at­ten­tion and trac­tion than 99 per­cent of in­de­pend­ent can­did­ates for Con­gress,” said Dav­id Wasser­man, House ed­it­or for The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port, “but at the end of the day this is still as safe a Re­pub­lic­an dis­trict as they come in Pennsylvania.”

Also, Troi­ano is a bit of a mil­len­ni­al out­lier in that he still be­lieves that polit­ics and gov­ern­ment can ef­fect pos­it­ive change. Des­pite be­ing stat­ist­ic­ally the most civic-minded gen­er­a­tion since the Greatest Gen­er­a­tion, nearly half of mil­len­ni­als agree that “polit­ics today are no longer able to meet the chal­lenges the coun­try is fa­cing,” ac­cord­ing to sur­veys by Har­vard Uni­versity’s In­sti­tute of Polit­ics, and be­lieve that “polit­ics has be­come too par­tis­an.” Nearly one-third agree that “polit­ic­al in­volve­ment rarely has any tan­gible res­ults.” Every down-on-gov­ern­ment met­rics is sur­ging among mil­len­ni­als.

Polit­ic­al sci­ent­ist Michelle Diggles of the mod­er­ate Demo­crat­ic think tank Third Way re­cently ar­gued in a land­mark study that both ma­jor parties are at risk of los­ing the mil­len­ni­al gen­er­a­tion. For in­stance, the num­ber of self-iden­ti­fied in­de­pend­ents among young Amer­ic­ans has in­creased by 11 per­cent­age points, nearly twice the rate of all oth­er gen­er­a­tions. “They aren’t sat­is­fied with either side,” Diggles said.

That’s why Troi­ano’s can­did­acy is worth watch­ing. He’s a young man in a hurry to prove that there is a fu­ture in polit­ics for mil­len­ni­als.

With a plat­form built around the no­tion of “gen­er­a­tion­al equity,” Troi­ano be­lieves that mil­len­ni­als will be more likely than their par­ents and grand­par­ents to make the hard choices re­quired to tame the U.S. debt, re­duce in­come in­equal­ity, in­crease eco­nom­ic mo­bil­ity, fight cli­mate change, and re­form 20th-cen­tury polit­ic­al in­sti­tu­tions that fa­vor an os­si­fied two-party sys­tem.

Troi­ano is cofounder of The Can Kicks Back, a non­par­tis­an cam­paign that ad­voc­ates for U.S. debt re­duc­tion. His sup­port­ers in­clude de­fi­cit hawks Er­skine Bowles, a Demo­crat, and Alan Simpson, a Re­pub­lic­an, as well as Russ Verney, who ad­vised the pres­id­en­tial cam­paign of in­de­pend­ent Ross Perot.

“In or­der to fix the chal­lenges fa­cing our coun­try, we must first fix our polit­ic­al sys­tem, so that our polit­ic­al pro­cess is fo­cused on con­cili­ation rather than con­flict, is rep­res­ent­at­ive of the people rather than the parties or the spe­cial in­terests, and is led by those who be­lieve in pub­lic ser­vice rather than self-pre­ser­va­tion,” Troi­ano said Sunday in an­noun­cing his can­did­acy.

“To be clear, the solu­tion is not ne­ces­sar­ily to end the two parties, but to tran­scend them; 60 per­cent of voters in our dis­trict agree that one way to break the grid­lock in Con­gress is to elect more in­de­pend­ent lead­ers to Con­gress,” he said, cit­ing a poll com­mis­sioned by his cam­paign.

The con­ser­vat­ive-lib­er­al de­bate over the size of gov­ern­ment bores mil­len­ni­als, Troi­ano says. Young Amer­ic­ans are far more in­ter­ested in de­bat­ing how to re­in­vent gov­ern­ment for the new cen­tury, a gov­ern­ing sys­tem that “sets na­tion­al goals but em­powers loc­al and state gov­ern­ments and civic in­sti­tu­tions to cre­ate solu­tions and bring suc­cess­ful ones to scale.”

He has found in­spir­a­tion in The End of Big, a book by Har­vard pro­fess­or Nicco Mele, who ar­gues that a mod­ern gov­ern­ment should re­semble a com­puter op­er­at­ing sys­tem upon which in­di­vidu­als, or­gan­iz­a­tions, and com­pan­ies build ser­vices and of­fer­ings that suit the times — flex­ible, trans­par­ent, and ac­count­able.

“Es­sen­tially, gov­ern­ment as a plat­form pre­sume that gov­ern­ment should provide an un­der­ly­ing in­fra­struc­ture and then let us build on top of that in­fra­struc­ture in a wide vari­ety of ways,” Mele writes. “It does not ne­ces­sar­ily mean smal­ler gov­ern­ment — but it does mean the end of Big Gov­ern­ment, with many smal­ler units of gov­ern­ment.”

Troi­ano is the first to ad­mit that such think­ing will sound naïve to most polit­ic­al pro­fes­sion­als and journ­al­ists. It might scare some voters in north­east Pennsylvania. Par­tis­ans will dis­miss, even mock, any talk of an in­de­pend­ent-minded in­sur­gency. Yes, he is a long shot — a clear-eyed one.

“I plan on win­ning,” he told me. Tug­ging on the lapels of sharply creased suit coat, Troi­ano ob­jec­ted to a sug­ges­tion that he was lead­ing a re­volu­tion of mil­len­ni­als. “I’m a young per­son lead­ing a move­ment of more mod­er­ate, prag­mat­ic voters of all gen­er­a­tions,” he said.

“But even if I don’t win, I hope this cam­paign demon­strates a mod­el that oth­er can­did­ates can build upon mov­ing for­ward.” He shrugged, and spoke for his gen­er­a­tion: “Our time will come.”


“The Out­siders: How Can Mil­len­ni­als Change Wash­ing­ton If They Hate It?”

“Mil­len­ni­al Mad­ness: What Hap­pens If Mil­len­ni­als Bolt Polit­ics”

“Mil­len­ni­als Aban­don Obama and Obama­care”

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4872) }}

What We're Following See More »
Preet Bharara Learned at the Foot of Chuck Schumer
0 minute ago

In The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin gives Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the longread treatment. The scourge of corrupt New York pols, bad actors on Wall Street, and New York gang members, Bharara learned at the foot of Chuck Schumer, the famously limelight-hogging senator whom he served as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee staff. No surprise then, that after President Obama appointed him, Bharara "brought a media-friendly approach to what has historically been a closed and guarded institution. In professional background, Bharara resembles his predecessors; in style, he’s very different. His personality reflects his dual life in New York’s political and legal firmament. A longtime prosecutor, he sometimes acts like a budding pol; his rhetoric leans more toward the wisecrack than toward the jeremiad. He expresses himself in the orderly paragraphs of a former high-school debater, but with deft comic timing and a gift for shtick."

Obama Commutes the Sentences of 58 Prisoners
16 minutes ago

President Obama has announced another round of commutations of prison sentences. Most of the 58 individuals named are incarcerated for possessions with intent to distribute controlled substances. The prisoners will be released between later this year and 2018.

Trump Roadmapped His Candidacy in 2000
1 hours ago

The Daily Beast has unearthed a piece that Donald Trump wrote for Gear magazine in 2000, which anticipates his 2016 sales pitch quite well. "Perhaps it's time for a dealmaker who can get the leaders of Congress to the table, forge consensus, and strike compromise," he writes. Oddly, he opens by defending his reputation as a womanizer: "The hypocrites argue that a man who loves and appreciates beautiful women (and does so legally and openly) shouldn't become a national leader? Is there something wrong with appreciating beautiful women? Don't we want people in public office who show signs of life?"

Sen. Murphy: Trump Shouldn’t Get Classified Briefigs
1 hours ago
Romney to Skip Convention
2 hours ago

An aide to Mitt Romney confirmed to the Washington Post that the 2102 GOP nominee will not attend the Republican convention this year. He joins the two living Republican presidents, George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, as well as 2008 nominee John McCain in skipping the event. Even among living Republican nominees, that leaves only Bob Dole who could conceivably show up. Dole did say in January that he'd prefer Trump to Ted Cruz, but his age (92) could keep him from attending.