Stateline Story

Ohio Lawmaker Is Part of Kiddie Caucus

Derrick Seaver comes across as a seasoned politician, but he had yet to fill out a state tax form, buy a house or have his first legal drink when Ohio voters sent him to the state capitol three years ago at age 18.

Now 21, Seaver, a Democrat, is still among the youngest state lawmakers in the country. A part-time college student engaged to be married, he won re-election last November in the heavily Republican 78th district of Minster in western Ohio.

Seaver became a political junkie before he even entered his teens, and launched his first legislative campaign in 2000 when he was a high school senior. He bested his Republican opponent for an open seat by 242 votes, and ended up the only state officeholder to take time out to take a high school proficiency exam and escort a date to the school prom.

"He's been a boy wonder. His lack of life experience doesn't show," Seaver's colleague, Rep. Charles Wilson, D-Bridgeport, said.

After fast-paced days at the capitol in Columbus, Seaver sleeps so soundly his friends joke about it . His roommate, former Ohio Democratic Party political director Bill DeMora, disclosed that he sometimes has to violently shake the young lawmaker's bed to awaken him. Seaver admits it took him awhile to get used to the long hours and hectic lifestyle of politics.

When a reporter asked in a telephone interview if his age was ever an issue, Seaver replied affirmatively. "It comes up in the campaigns but I've been very appreciative of the voters for not responding to it, and I thank them all the time for giving me the chance to serve," Seaver said.

Seaver, a Roman Catholic, said his pro-life and pro-gun positions are in tune with his constituency and make him one of the most conservative Democrats in Ohio's caucus. Bucking his party, Seaver backed legislation that would permit people to carry concealed weapons.

Seaver said he wins elections because of his willingness to go out and knock on doors. In his first campaign, he and his supporters canvassed 12,000 households, handing out "I'm a Seaver believer" stickers to everyone who would accept one. An appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno gave him celebrity status and boosted his name recognition.

"All the local media covered my being on the show, and that helped out a lot," Seaver told Stateline.org.

Seaver earns $53,000 a year as a member of the legislature, and to the dismay of some of his colleagues, has introduced a bill that would freeze legislative salaries. He says it's unfair for lawmakers to take raises while state jobs are being cut.

"We get a 3 percent increase every year which is what (my) bill would stop until the budget situation turns around," Seaver said.

Seaver completed his freshman year at Ohio's Wright State College this month. He is majoring in education and is interested in teaching.

"It takes me two years to finish one (year of college), so my goal is to be able to get a degree by the eighth year of my term, which is the maximum amount I can serve in the legislature (because of term limits,)" Seaver said.

Seeing a movie about the late President John F. Kennedy triggered Seaver's interest in politics. He won his first trip to Columbus at age 12 by writing a prize-winning essay about his dying dog Brandee.

Seaver and several other twenty-something state lawmakers contacted by Stateline.org all agreed that youth works to their advantage.

New York Assemblyman Ryan Karben, D-Rockland County, is 28, and said he's the Empire State's youngest lawmaker.

"I have a vested interest in what happens in the state over the next 20 years," Karben said. "I think that's a voice that's important to have in legislatures. I'm going to live with the consequences of my vote far longer than some of my more senior colleagues."

Pennsylvania Rep. Jeff Coleman, R-Armstrong, is 27, but said he yields the distinction of being the youngest Keystone State lawmaker to Republican Dave Reed, 25, of Indiana County, who was elected to the state House last year.

"We have record numbers of 18- to 24-year-olds registering to vote in our legislative districts, Dave and I, combined. We live in western Pennsylvania, which is kind of soured and cynical about the political process. This is a hard-hit region economically. Having a couple of young people in public office has inspired folks that had been away from the ballot box for a few years," Coleman said. "It also sends a message to young citizens that it's OK, that politics and public service is noble."