Spotlight on YNP
Senator Niraj Antani, Ohio State Senate
How long have you been in your seat there in Ohio?
I've been in the General Assembly for seven years and about two months, but I was in the House for six years and now I've completed my first year in the Senate.
What would you say are the differences you've noticed between working in the House versus working in the Senate?
Obviously, a bigger district, which is nice. I think the other thing is frankly, a lot older members. There are quite a few young members in the House, but not so much in the Senate. And then it's just a general thing that to get to this Senate, most of the senators were in the House, and they tend to be the more experienced members, and everybody can sort of hold their own.
What motivated you to run for office?
My family is from India and came to the United States. So I think I have a unique perspective on the American dream and what the American dream means and entails. And that was a big motivator for me, and frankly the other part is that I am a millennial and grew up with the belief that millennials deserve a seat at the table. And now, frankly, I’m an older millennial, now seven years into this. But I just firmly believe that that our generation deserve that seat at the table in an ongoing fashion. I think in politics we talk a lot about gender diversity and racial diversity, and that's very important. But we don't really ever talk about age diversity, which is interesting.
So, this can be work you've done the last year in the Senate or in the House, or both: what work are you most proud of?
In the last year we were able to get into law the legalization of name, image and likeness rights for college athletes. This obviously became a national issue. But we were one of the 15 states that led this charge that resulted in the NCAA granting these rights for everyone. Here in Ohio those rights are now in law, and it was quite a journey and we made some national news about it. We had some drama that occurred but I’m very proud of that legislation.
What's one of your favorite features of the Ohio capital?
Our State House is, I guess, known for is that Lincoln was there at three significant times one was during his campaign where he campaigned at the capitol. The second was after the election and he was on his way from Illinois to D.C., his first election. And actually, he was in the governor’s office when the Electoral College notified him, by messenger, of his victory or so the legend says. And then the third was when he laid in state in the Rotunda when he was being taken back to Illinois after his assassination.
What's the most unexpected or helpful thing you've learned in your time that you think other folks would find interesting or helpful?
It’s a little nitty gritty, but one thing, I don’t think it surprised me, but I did not expect how much the legislature is used as a tool in industry competition battles. A certain industry going after another industry or two competitors within a certain industry trying to gain a competitive edge. Unfortunately, I think it’s quite prevalent and is something that I had not expected coming into this.
What advice would you offer someone when they're walking in on their first day of session?
My advice is that it is hard to remember every day when you get into the trenches, that legislators, we have more ability to make more of a difference in one day, than many people will have in their entire lives. And I think it's very easy for people to get caught up in the drama or politics, etc. But at the end of the day, we have great ability to do things and to make change. I think that we have to remember that every day is an opportunity to do that.
How can seasoned lawmakers be effective mentors to new legislators?
I had a few legislators when I first started seven years ago who offered me advice, but I would say that you also have to want to be mentored. And I personally don't know that many new legislators, in recent history, are looking for that. Many come in thinking they know everything and that is a problem. I just had this discussion with someone. We were talking about this exact problem, and I was like ‘I hope I wasn't like this when I started seven years ago.’ But, you never know, right?
What skill or personality trait do you feel has served you most in your time in the Ohio Assembly?
I would say the most important one is a quick learning curve. I was elected at 23 and I had just spent my first year in law school. A lot of legislators come in with areas of expertise having had careers in certain industries and that's great. Oftentimes, they then see every issue through the lens of that industry which, that's just not always how things work. So, an ability to learn quickly about any subject whether it's welfare or health care, agriculture or what have you. I think that ability to learn new things quickly is incredibly incredibly important.
Assemblywoman Selena Torres, Nevada State Assembly
“I hope that I've helped pave the way so that we can get more young people into office”
How long have you been in your office or seat there in the Assembly?
I was first elected in November 2018. I have currently served in two legislative sessions. I was the youngest one serving in the Nevada state legislature during the 2019 session and the youngest person in the State Assembly this last legislative session, I'm also chair of the Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus
What motivated you to run for office?
When I first made the announcement to run for office, I was still 22 years old. It was my first year in the classroom and in the middle of my grad school program, and one of my largest motivators for making the decision to run for office is definitely my students. At the time I was working in a school, an elementary school in East Las Vegas. It was clear to me the systemic inequities had an impact on my students in our education system, but then also outside and that those little factors like affordable housing, access to health care, those were all things that impacted how my students were able to perform, and so, a large part of why I made the decision to run for office is because I wanted to make sure that my students had a voice at the legislature that understood the diverse needs of our community.
What work have you done that you're most proud of?
I'm proud of some of the legislative accomplishments we have made, and the work that I'm most proud of has to be in the last legislative session. When we were able to pass AB376, and although that piece of legislation was amended significantly from its initial introduction, by the end of session we were able to get half a million dollars into the University of Nevada, Las Vegas immigration clinic, which allows for us to be one of the few states that are providing state funded deportation defense for immigrants in the state of Nevada and their families. It really was a phenomenal achievement for myself, but also for our community because now that that funding has taken effect, I'm watching as the immigration clinic expands its services and is able to take on more clients than ever before and really watch the impact of that legislation.
What’s your most favorite like places or features in the Nevada capitol?
Carson City is such an interesting place. I really love the grounds of the capitol; it is so different. I was born and raised here in Las Vegas, which is obviously a really busy city and so taking a moment to sit outside on the Capitol grounds on a stressful day, even when it's snowing, is always nice for me to absorb some of that sun. The grounds are just so beautiful, especially in the springtime with the flowers in full bloom, the trees blooming it's really just a beautiful time of year and springtime coincides with the end of the legislative session, so it's definitely a time when you need to find the most sunlight. I always find the deer outside so that's a pretty unique feature of the Capitol.
As someone who's fairly new to the legislature, what's the most unexpected or helpful thing that you've learned in your time there?
Obviously, the procedures and all of that were new to me and it was a different professional setting than I was used to working in the classroom and working in our community doing a lot of community events and activism prior to serving in the legislature. I think the interesting thing to me or the most important lesson that I've learned has really been to learn how to work across the aisle. I think that oftentimes politics seems so black and white. It's either right or it's wrong, but I think that politics and making strong legislation is so much more dynamic and so it's important to listen to all sides. It doesn't mean I'm going to always agree. However, I've definitely learned to make friendships with individuals that you know, work across the aisle, and we've been able to collaborate, and make meaningful legislation. Sometimes they still aren't going to vote with me, but we can make changes to legislation that I think makes us walk away with a better bill overall.
What advice would you have for someone who's walking in on their first day of legislative session?
One of the most important things for somebody who's walking on the first day of session is never think that you know it at all and be willing to learn. I truly believe every day in the legislature, I can learn something new from somebody new, and it's not always from the people you think you're going to learn it from. It's not always from the most experienced legislators. It's not always from the people in your same party. Just be willing to learn and be willing to evolve on issues. I think that can get you a long way in the legislative building.
How can seasoned lawmakers be more effective mentors to folks who are newer to the environment?
The legislature isn't a competition. It's not about being the best. It's about serving the State the best. So, recognizing that you can uplift a fellow lawmaker without hurting yourself, I think is important. And building that relationship by getting to know that individual. Like the saying “to break bread with someone.” I think they should break bread with their new legislators. I definitely know that there were colleagues that tried something like freshman hazing. I think even greater because I was so young. I always just kind of ignored it. I was in a sorority in college, so I know what hazing is. I just ignore it. But I don't think it was purposeful. I don't think it helped build me up as a lawmaker or as a leader. Moving forward, I know I don't want to be a leader that does that type of thing and then, as an educator, we are all about helping mentor and helping others grow up. So, that's what I like to do in the legislative building.
What skill or personality trait has served you the most in your time with the assembly?
You know, growing up my family always taught me how to make something with very little and so even when I didn't know the rules of the game, I could figure it out and I would work harder than anybody. Growing up, I was never the smartest kid in the class, but I would work harder than every kid that was smarter than me and I would always end up with the best grade. I would work 10 times harder than everybody and study more hours. And I'm the same in the legislature. I mean, that doesn't mean that I'm always going to pass every single piece of legislation, but I'm not going to be outworked.