At 34, Henry Stern is the youngest member of the California State Senate. He wouldn’t mind losing that title one day soon – to some up-and-comer from another district, of course.
“I hope, through my tenure, to engage young voters who are now becoming the biggest demographic out there,’’ Stern told The Signal on Thursday, a day after he was named chairman of the Senate’s Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee – a platform from which he hopes to spark young people’s interest in electoral politics.
“It is time for the next generation to lead as citizen-innovators in a volatile moment in our democracy’s history,’’ Stern also said, in a news release. “As chair, I will focus on opening up our electoral process to engage those who feel left out and disenfranchised by the current system.”
Stern, a Democrat whose 27th Senate District stretches from Malibu to parts of the Santa Clarita Valley, was picked for four other committees as well: Energy, Utilities and Commerce; Environmental Quality; Judiciary; and Natural Resources and Water.
The former environmental lawyer — who served as senior policy adviser to his termed-out predecessor, Fran Pavley, before winning the seat himself in November — said he gave a list of 10 committees on which he hoped to serve to the Senate’s Democratic leadership. He was thrilled with the five on which he landed.
“I tried to reflect my district’s priorities,’’ he said.
Issues he pointed to as being of particular concern to him were the controversial Aliso Canyon gas-storage facility and the Porter Ranch gas leak – with his seats on the various committees giving him a say on those matters on multiple fronts.
The overlapping jurisdictions of his committees will also put Stern in position for “taking the lead in the fight to protect California’s environmental laws and policies from the attacks coming out of the new presidential administration,’’ his office said in a release.
All legislation regarding environmental safety and oversight, including that of the Public Utilities Commission, will have to go through at least one of the Stern’s committees, his office pointed out.
Toward his goal of energizing young voters, Stern has already spoken about his plan begin a “young senators program” in high schools throughout the district.
“Frankly, I’d love to expand on that, figure out better ways to get them (young people) engaged in the voting process,’’ Stern said.
He said that youth turnout was strong in the recent primaries but dipped in the general election, and that he doesn’t want young people’s political involvement “to be just a fad.”
“Now I actually get to use the power of the committee to marshal a broader voice,’’ he said.
Additionally, he said, he wants to use his chairmanship of the Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee to simplify the ballot-proposition process – which produced a bewildering 18 “props” in the recent election.
“The initiative process is going to be important,’’ he said. “A lot of people were overwhelmed by the quantity of the initiatives. Do they want to continue that wide-ranging, big picture? Or is it overwhelming? I get confused, too.’’
He said he would not necessarily want to limit the number of propositions on the ballot in any given election because, “picking a number is tricky.’’ But, he said, there could be increased “conversation between the legislature and the propositions’ authors” to perhaps simplify and clarify the often byzantine ballot language.
That conversation is already allowed, and sometimes practiced, “but we haven’t taken full advantage of it,” Stern said.
The legislature convenes on Jan. 4.
“I’m ready to go,’’ Stern said.