As thousands of newly elected state legislators across the country are making arrangements for new offices, discussing transition plans and preparing to be sworn in, one newcomer to the West Virginia House of Delegates is also postponing her college classes until the fall.
Saira Blair, a Republican who ran a large part of her campaign out of her dorm room at the University of West Virginia, was elected Tuesday to represent the 59th district of roughly 18,000 people in the state’s eastern panhandle, about 90 minutes from Washington, D.C. When she takes her oath of office in January, the 18-year-old college freshman will become the youngest state lawmaker in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Blair, whose father Craig is a state senator in West Virginia, ran on a conservative platform of anti-abortion, pro-gun and anti-gay marriage views. According to her campaign website, she also supports voter ID laws and promises to work to repeal a law that has produced unusually high gas taxes in the state.
In a post on her Facebook page, Blair said her election signifies a message that “the path to prosperity and success is rooted in conservative values and principles.”
Blair collected 63 percent of the vote in her district, easily dispatching Democrat Layne Diehl, a 44-year-old attorney from Martinsburg. Diehl called Blair Tuesday night to congratulate her on running a good campaign.
“I’m very proud of the race that was run on both sides,” Diehl told the Associated Press. “Quite frankly, a 17- or 18-year-old young woman that has put herself out there and won a political campaign has certainly brought some positive press to the state. I look forward to seeing what her leadership brings to the state of West Virginia.”
According to NCSL research, there are more than 7,000 state legislators in the United States, and fewer than five percent of them are under the age of 30. Thanks to two unusual laws in West Virginia -- one preventing 17-year-olds from voting even if they turn 18 before Election Day and the other allowing residents to run for statewide office before turning 21 -- Blair, who turned 18 in July, wasn’t eligible to vote for herself in a primary election earlier this year.
In that primary, she unseated a two-term Republican. She told the Wall Street Journal that she promoted her youth as an asset during the fall campaign, saying the voices of younger voters should be heard more clearly in the state capitol. She also contributed nearly $4,000 of her own money to her campaign.
“People should know I have some skin in the game,” she said recently. “I want voters to know I was serious.”