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Q+A with Rep. Maxwell Frost

The Florida Democrat talks about his advocacy for gun control and what it's like being the youngest member of Congress.

Rep. Maxwell Frost speaks during a news conference on gun violence in June 2023. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
ASSOCIATED PRESS
May 15, 2024, 6:07 p.m.

Rep. Maxwell Frost is the first Gen Z member to serve in Congress. The 27-year-old first engaged with politics after watching Barack Obama deliver his first inaugural address. He has since gotten involved in the gun-violence-prevention organization March For Our Lives. The Florida progressive spoke with Lauren Green about what led him to run for Congress, who and what he advocates for, and how he will speak with young voters as the November election quickly approaches. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Can you tell me a little bit about what led up to you wanting to run for Congress?

I had some friends who, very casually—it wasn't like an intervention—they were just like, “Max, we think you should run for Congress.” The first thing I said was, “Hell, no.” I was like, “I'm not running for Congress—too young, don't have experience.” All the things that my opponents would say about me, I said about myself.

A few months later, I started thinking about it. What changed everything for me was actually connecting with my birth mother for the first time in my life and getting to hear her story and the things that she had been through. That really connected to my politics—you know, fighting for the most vulnerable people. So after that call, I said, "You know what? I have to run for Congress, if not for the things I believe in, for people like my biological mother.” And that's what pushed me to run.

You are very passionate about different forms of advocacy—what are those and how were those passions sparked?

No. 1, you have your electoral advocacy and work, which I started doing early on in high school, and I think the first campaign that I volunteered on was for Obama's reelection campaign. And then after that, I volunteered for Charlie Crist’s election campaign for governor in Florida, and then after that for Bernie Sanders in high school, and then I got hired to work for Hillary Clinton, then becoming a field director, [which was] a huge reason why I won my race. I understood what it meant to win, and I understood what it meant to be a part of a campaign.

The other thing that helps me with this now as an elected official—I recognize that view of it, and so I actually have a year-round organizing program. We have three cohorts of organizers that we hire every year, young people. We pay them to teach them how to organize and we put them on the doors. So we get petitions for the abortion ballot initiative. We go out and we help other candidates. We helped flip a seat in Florida just a few months ago.

The other type of organizing, I'd say, is direct action, which I was always a part of in the gun-violence-prevention movement when I was at March For Our Lives, and even during the Black Lives Matter uprising, where, you know, we see a video of Black men being lynched in broad daylight, George Floyd, and hit the streets. I was one of those people that hit the streets and protested every day for like eight months. I was tear-gassed, I was maced, I was hit by police, I was arrested, and I went to jail in the district I now represent. And so I bring that with me as a member of Congress here, understanding the value of our voice, the value of direct action.

The other type of organizing—I'd say it's this more cultural side of things: How do we organize and combine culture? I used to plan concerts at my school and plan shows, and my salsa band went and performed for Obama during the inauguration, and I planned all that, and I bring that with me now.

Obama’s campaign ran on a promise of hope and change, After working on his campaign, did you incorporate that same hope into your campaign?

One hundred percent. There's a few different political figures who have had a huge impact on me. The first to ever have an impact on me was Barack Obama.

When Obama was elected, I was in freaking elementary school or something. I mean, I wasn't thinking about the problems of the world. But it's interesting because hope isn't something that is like, “Oh, I see problems and then this person has inspired me to fix those problems so that we can defeat those problems.” I didn't really have any real problems in my mind, but I still had hope and that sense that the world could be better. You've got to have a pretty powerful person to inspire hope in someone who doesn't even see the problems with the world, and being so young. I was adopted at birth. I was raised in a family that doesn't look like me—that I love very much but doesn’t look like me. I was raised in a community that people don't look like me that much, either. I just remember sitting with my dad in the living room; I'm sitting on the floor, seeing Barack Obama give a speech and seeing myself represented.

That hope was part of what drove me into politics.

You have pushed to end gun violence. How does being in the younger generation change your outlook on this issue? Has your perspective as someone who was in school when this issue became an alarming reality helped sway other lawmakers?

You know, the thing is that if they don't hear that from me, they hear from their own kids. They hear it from their kids that are in high school or middle school right now, and I think that is a very powerful thing. Even my conservative colleagues a lot of times will have their children come up to them and say, “I'm scared, I’m scared,” and I have a lot of them tell me about that, too.

We have more young people in offices. We're here to give voice to the generation that’s really oftentimes not represented in these halls.

How do you speak to members on the other side of the aisle on this issue?

Well, that’s hard. I’ve had many conversations with my colleagues on gun violence, and—not naming names, but I’ll tell you that a lot of them have told me, “I agree with you actually. Maybe we don't agree on everything, but I agree with you most of the way. But you got a gun bill last Congress. ...” Or people saying they're afraid of a primary. I have so many colleagues who have had conversations with Republicans who have said, “I want to do something, but I'm scared of a primary.” So it's really unfortunate in the Republican Party right now because it's like a culture of fear that has really kept us from unlocking all the legislation we need.

But sometimes we have glimmers of hope. My first bill was to start this Office of Gun Violence Prevention, and then the president took my bill and used that as the framework to start the first-ever federal Office of Gun Violence Prevention after it was enacted due to the executive order. A few weeks later, we get a notification: Marjorie Taylor Greene is putting in a bill to defund the office, and it gets ruled in order. So I'm worried: "We're in the minority and we were going to lose this vote. This isn’t good."

I worked really quickly, and we only had a few hours. I started speaking with more-conservative Democrats, and then I spoke with moderate Republicans. I was talking about how this is an office that really helps all of our districts. It's not about being partisan, it’s about ending gun violence and providing resources to our districts, and we really don't want it to be a political thing. And, to my surprise, not only [did] the vote fail and we saved the office, but we saved the office with seven Republican votes in this Congress.

I know that you have a large appeal to young voters. With this upcoming election, what are you telling voters who think President Biden is too old?

When I go out to other young people, if they have a problem with the president, it's not that he's too old. I just don't hear that from young people. I actually usually hear [that] from old people. I, No. 1, encourage people to focus on policy, and there's a lot of older people in office—look at someone like Bernie Sanders. He's very old, but a lot of young people supported him. But the other thing I'll say is that we have a president who has such an amazing agenda and wants to continue working on it. And sometimes I’m talking to people one-on-one and continue to push this concern around. It usually doesn't really have to do with the age itself; it has to do with their concern on his ability to do the job.

There's two choices here, and one could literally mean the erosion of democracy and someone who doesn't believe in the establishment, or someone who we can work with. And for me, that is a very easy decision, no matter what the age gap is.

How have you felt Biden’s performance has been surrounding the war in Israel and Gaza? Is this a concern for young voters?

That is a concern that I've heard from young voters, and obviously we see it everywhere. I think other kinds of fear from young voters, generally not as it relates to the president but just in general, are affordable housing, food insecurity, things we all care about. But a lot of young people do care about the atrocities that we see going on in Gaza right now. A lot of young people are upset with the president. But I think what they're also seeing now, especially in light of the news last week, the president will be altering certain transfers of bombs in Israel to help stop invading Rafah.

You might not 100 percent agree with President Biden the way that he's led the board on what's going on in Israel and Gaza. Obviously, I personally called for a cease-fire a long time ago, but what we do see is he's actually been listening and moving in the right direction, which I think is a lot more than you could say about what the other guy would do. I think that alone should give us some hope ... that he really cares about what we suggest.

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