While most 17 year-old girls talk about Grey’s Anatomy, Starbucks, and the latest news about the Kardashians, Saira Blair was talking about politics. The then 17-year-old Hedgesville High School student had just made a pretty big decision – let alone for a teenager who still couldn’t even register to vote. She was going to run for the West Virginia House of Delegates and try to become the youngest lawmaker in the United States of America.
Blair grew up around politics, and talking about hot-button political issues was a typical conversation held in the Blair household. When she decided to run in 2014, it wasn’t her first rodeo. “When I was only six years old, my father first ran for the House of Delegates. He served for eight years until 2010 when he ran for State Senate but lost. Politics was always something I grew up with, it was every day dinner time conversation. He ran for Senate again in 2012 and I worked as his campaign manager and I really developed an interest in what he was doing, and thought I may want to do the same thing at some point in my life,” Blair said.
Her father, Craig Blair, now serves in the upper chamber of the West Virginia Legislature as a State Senator, and Saira’s exposure to politics at an early age made the 2014 House of Delegates race in the 59th District seemed like a great way for her to dip her toes in the waters of West Virginia politics.
But, there had to be something that really lauded Blair to run. She says it was her time in Charleston during her junior year of high school. Blair attended the Youth Leadership Association’s annual program, Youth in Government. It was there that Blair decided that she was tired of seeing her older friends getting their high school and college educations in West Virginia, and then turning around and leaving post-graduation in search of a job.
One of Blair’s lines that she used frequently throughout the campaign, and on her national news appearances, was, “I decided that I didn’t need to be 40, 50, or 60 to run for public office.” And that she did. In 2014, Blair launched her campaign for the Republican nomination for the West Virginia House of Delegates in the 59th District.
While finishing up her senior year in high school and getting ready to go to college, Blair managed the day-to-day operations of her campaign. She said, “ I focused all of my work locally throughout my primary campaign.” Blair’s localized, personal campaign paid off in the end. On Primary Election Night, Blair did the unthinkable. She beat out an entrenched GOP lawmaker. With 13 of out 13 precincts reporting in Morgan and Berkeley Counties, Blair received 872 votes. Her opponent, incumbent State Delegate Larry Kump, fell short with only 728 votes.
The media attention picked up once Blair won the Republican nomination. Following her victory, Blair rose to national attention, and she was immediately transformed from a teenager just about to graduate college to a young woman who was on the verge of making political history. In regards to the media attention, Blair said, “I was completely shocked and overwhelmed by the amount of national news media I received after my primary, I never expected any of it.”
Blair’s primary victory was picked up by almost every national news outlet. The 17-year-old Republican nominee was deemed a hero by some, but others viewed her as out of touch with the issues of the Millennial generation. Blair thought otherwise. In many interviews, Blair touted that she was trying to be a voice for the young Conservatives in West Virginia and across the United States. On the left, the liberals bashed Blair for being “out-of-touch” with the interests of the Millennial generation. However, the Hedgesville High School graduate and soon-to-be West Virginia University Mountaineer didn’t seem to phased.
In August, following a long summer of campaigning, Blair in fact moved out of her district in order to attend West Virginia University. On the weekdays, Blair would go to class, head to the student recreation center, and do all of the normal things a college student would do. When asked about what it was like being on campus, Blair said, “I never told people that I was running for office unless they asked. No one had any clue until the school newspaper wrote an article the day after Election Day.”
It is hard enough being a college student, but Blair also had to attend to a general election campaign in which she was up against a liberal trial attorney, Layne Diehl. Blair’s strategy was simple – remain humble, stay local and don’t let the stress of college cloud her vision.
“I did a lot of my base campaigning during the primary election and over the summer prior to leaving for school. There were some days that I’d have to skip a class to drive home to campaign, but I was very content with my overall grades at the end of the semester. I made a point to balance my time. In the morning I focused on classes, afternoon on campaigning, and the evenings for leisure and social time,” Blair said. This back-and-forth between Morgantown and the 59th House of Delegates district lasted for about 3 months. Then, on November 4th, Saira Blair made history.
Becoming the youngest State lawmaker in the history of the United States is no easy task, but for Saira Blair, it was only the beginning. Blair defeated her Democratic challenger Layne Diehl by earning 63% of the vote to Diehl’s 27%. Now, Saira was ready to pack up her dorm room and move to Charleston to represent the 59th district in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
“In the morning I focused on classes, afternoon on campaigning, and the evenings for leisure and social time.”2014 wasn’t just a big year for Saira Blair. It was also a pivotal year for the Republican Party in West Virginia. For the first time in 83 years, the State GOP took control of both the House of Delegates and the State Senate. In the House, Blair would become a part of a 64-member Republican majority. Meanwhile, her father, Craig, became a part of the State Senate’s first Republican majority. State Senator Dan Hall switched his party affiliation from Democratic to Republican, which lead to an 18-16 Republican majority.
Blair’s legislative goals included legal reforms, combating the drug abuse problem, creating jobs and reinvigorating the economy. For Blair, her first session in Charleston was a success. “The session went really well and I’m proud of the strides our legislature is making in creating a reinvigorated, fresher, better West Virginia,” Blair said referring to the first session of the State Legislature.
Casting votes, attending committee meetings, meeting with constituents and attending political dinners are the usual routine for a seasoned politician, but for the 18-year-old State lawmaker, it all came with the new job. When asked about whether or not her age had any impact on earning the respect of her fellow lawmakers, Blair’s response was, “My age was never really an issue.” Blair noted that in the State Legislature, there are currently 8 lawmakers under the age of 30.
“I did make a lot of friends in my 60 days in Charleston. It’s incredible how diverse our state is and that I was able to make connections with people from so many different backgrounds,” Blair said. “Being that I was new to the process, I spent most of my time as a wallflower, selectively choosing the occasions that I spoke. However, each time I did I was given just as much respect as any other legislator.”
Now that the first session in Charleston is over, Blair is getting ready to return back to her life as a college student. Blair said she will be returning to West Virginia University to enroll in summer and fall courses, and that she will then take the Spring 2016 semester off in order to attend to business in Charleston.
Her goals for the next session include, “creating a greater job climate, such as a Right to Work bill, as well as education reform.” Blair’s main focus of her campaign was centered upon keeping young people in the State post-graduation, and she says that the way that West Virginia can do that is by creating good paying jobs for high school and college graduates.
So, has her life changed at all? The answer was simple – “Yes.”
“My life is very different than what it was prior to running, but I’m very happy with the opportunities God has blessed me with. There are ups and downs to everything, but I knew what I was getting myself into when I made the decision to run, and if I had the choice to go back in time I wouldn’t change a thing,” Blair said.
Blair has not made a decision about whether or not she will run for re-election in 2016, but she has said that her time in Charleston has given her a tremendous opportunity to serve the State of West Virginia and her constituents in the 59th District.
Saira Blair made history, and for her, the journey has only just begun.