From the U to the Capitol

The state’s youngest lawmaker hopes to bring a fresh outlook, when he’s not stuck in class.

Rep. Drew Christensen, R-Savage, poses for a photograph outside the State Office Building on Wednesday. He is a University student and the youngest member of the state Legislature this session.

Alex Tuthill-Preus

Rep. Drew Christensen, R-Savage, poses for a photograph outside the State Office Building on Wednesday. He is a University student and the youngest member of the state Legislature this session.

Logan Wroge

Amending laws, policymaking and attending committee meetings aren’t included in the typical schedule of a University of Minnesota senior.

Unless you’re Drew Christensen.

The Republican from Burnsville, Minn., began his first term in the state’s House of Representatives this month with hopes of bringing a fresh perspective to the Capitol as the Legislature’s youngest member.

“I saw politics as a way to serve my community and really make my community a better place,” Christensen said.

The 21-year-old political science major was set to graduate in December, but after taking last semester off to campaign, he plans to graduate in the summer.

Christensen is currently the youngest legislator in the state and one of the youngest in Minnesota’s history.

State law requires candidates be 21 years old to occupy a seat in the Senate or the House.

While age determines if you can run, Rep. Abigail Whelan, R-Anoka, said she thinks Christensen’s age contributes to a broad range of perspectives needed in the Legislature, but it won’t affect his ability to gain the respect of his peers.

“I think that what determines the amount of respect that you get from your fellow colleagues is the respect you give them and the kind of character and way you carry yourself,” said Whelan, who was also Christensen’s former teaching assistant at the University.

Positions of leadership and policy aren’t new to Christensen, though.

At the University, he served on the Minnesota Student Association and was active with the College Republicans.

“He usually brought points to the table that weren’t always common in a college or student government, which was really nice to hear another side,” said sophomore Elizabeth Hazekamp, who served with Christensen on MSA her freshman year.

Tim Commers, campaign manager for U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said he met Christensen in the summer of 2013 while both of them worked on the congressman’s campaign.

After learning that the Republican position in Christensen’s district would be vacant, Commers called the University student last February and encouraged him to run.

Christensen said the opportunity excited him, and he immediately started campaigning.

Door-knocking played an important role in Christensen’s campaign — he claimed that he visited every door in his district.

“People don’t pay that close attention to a state [representative] race,” Commers said. “You need to get yourself out there at their door.”

Christensen won his district — 56A, which includes parts of Burnsville and Savage — with about 56 percent of the vote.

This session, Christensen sits on the House’s higher education committee, two other education-related committees and the Aging and Long-Term Care Policy Committee.

While Christensen didn’t pursue his childhood dream of playing for the Minnesota Twins because of an inability to “hit a curveball,” he said he’s excited to serve his community and tackle education issues.

He said he supports affordable college tuition, but thinks the University’s proposed tuition freeze is a “Band-Aid solution.”

“I think the University needs to take a hard look at its administrative spending and ways they can be more efficient,” Christensen said.

The inclusion of performance evaluations in teacher layoffs and closing the achievement gap are important issues to him as well.

Although the representative said he has no plans to author any bills, his days are kept busy with committee hearings, constituent meetings and Legislative sessions.

Even as a young lawmaker, Christensen said he has the same responsibility of other lawmakers to represent his community.

“The young can learn from their elders, but it can also be switched,” Hazekamp said. “I think that Drew can bring a lot to the table, and he’s a fresh face with a lot of new ideas.”