Politics

Maxwell Frost on why he isn’t worried about being the first Gen Z member in Congress

Florida is one state where a big red wave did hit in the 2022 midterms, producing a banner year for Republicans even where they fizzled elsewhere. But the election of Maxwell Alejandro Frost to represent Florida’s 10th Congressional District provided Democrats some good news that could ripple for years to come: Frost, 25, will be the first Gen Z member of Congress.

Frost will be the youngest member of Congress, but he does have a decade of experience as an activist and organizer, and those experiences shaped his campaign’s platform. He is a former March for Our Lives organizer, he worked on prison reform in Florida, and he’s advocated for securing abortion rights, creating solutions to address climate change and for more accessible housing and transit. Now he has to translate that experience to the House of Representatives.

“I’m going into a system that has caused a lot of harm historically,” Frost told Today, Explained host Noel King for a recent episode. “But I also think that to give up on government as a path toward the world we want is to almost give up on our greatest tool that we have as far as being able to make the change. … I think we have to use every tool in our toolbox.”

King spoke with Rep.-elect Frost during his trip to DC for congressional orientation about how people have reacted to his historic win, why he thinks more organizers should actually run for political office, and how he is feeling about the GOP gains in his state. Their conversation is below, edited for length and clarity. There’s much more in the full podcast, so listen to Today, Explained wherever you get podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.


Noel King

So you’re the first member of Generation Z elected to Congress. How do you feel?

Rep.-elect Frost

I feel great. You know, it’s all the emotions at once. I feel incredibly blessed. We had hundreds of people who really came together to be a part of this movement and really make this win possible. And then also the pressures of just getting the office ready and just ensuring that we’re all good for January so [we] can really serve the people immediately.

Noel King

You’re in Washington, DC, this week doing orientation. Yes?

Rep.-elect Frost

Yup.

Noel King

What’s one thing about orientation that you think you’ll never forget? One experience.

Rep.-elect Frost

I think the connections I’m making and just being able to make some really great friendships. On the Democratic side, it’s such a diverse and young class of people. People like [incoming Congress members] Greg Casar in Austin, Texas, or Delia Ramirez [of Illinois], Jasmine Crockett [of Texas], Summer Lee [of Pennsylvania] … it’s just really exciting to build these strong relationships.

Noel King

After the midterms, I was talking to a man who spent many years on Capitol Hill many years ago. I asked him what he thought you might encounter. And he said, well, no one is going to believe that he’s in Congress. Referring to your age, of course. Have you experienced any of that? Anyone saying things like, “Son, what are you doing here?”

Rep.-elect Frost

Not from members, but I’ve counted five times now that I’ve been stopped and told, “Oh, this is the members line,” or this and that. But it’s okay; I don’t really hold it against people too much. I mean, the fact of the matter is it is abnormal for a 25-year-old to be in the halls of Congress as a member. And so I’m one of many folks, hopefully, young folks that’ll change that stigma.

I was walking into a building and was walking through the member line, which we’re allowed to do with our ID. And the guy was like, “Oh, hey, that’s for members, you got to come through here.” And it’s like, “Oh, I’m a member-elect,” [and] show my ID and he’s like, “Wait, let me see it.” And then he and the other guard looked at it, and they started cheering and they’re like, “Oh, my god, you’re so young! And he’s Black! Only in America!” They were like jumping up and down and clapping and it was actually really cool. It was really sweet. It was funny.

Noel King

What did you feel like when you heard that?

Rep.-elect Frost

I think that feeling that they had is really the feeling that hopefully a lot of people across the country have had. But, again, not just my election, but the election of just really great young people, especially young people of color coming in the freshman class.

Noel King

The average age in the House of Representatives is 59-ish. So you’re going to be very young compared to many of your colleagues. And I wonder, what do you think the challenges will be having colleagues who are, on the whole, just a lot older than you?

Rep.-elect Frost

The great thing is a lot of my colleagues are really just excited to have me there. Something that Speaker Pelosi told me just a few days after I won my primary is that it’s going to be really a breath of fresh air to have young people in the caucus.

I think there’s often times where people won’t take me as seriously or look down on me, but that’s something I’m used to. I mean, I’ve been working full time in politics since straight out of high school at 18 years old, and I’ve always been the youngest person in the room. I’ve managed people twice my age … even though it’s at a whole new level now, the United States Congress, I’m ready for it.

Noel King

How did you get your start at 18?

Rep.-elect Frost

My start was actually at 15. 18 is really when it kind of became my career, but how I really got involved was 10 years ago was the Sandy Hook shooting. It had an insane impact on my life. I couldn’t think straight and I ended up going to the memorial in Washington, DC. It was there that I met a guy named Matthew Soto. Matthew’s sister Vicki was one of the teachers at Sandy Hook that lost her life. And seeing Matthew crying and talking about how much he missed a sister, seeing a 16-year-old with the demeanor of a 60-year-old, just completely changed my life forever. I went straight to my hotel room and I dedicated the rest of my life to fighting for a world where no one would have to feel the pain that I saw in Matthew’s eyes. And for me, that really is what changed everything for me.

Noel King

Organizing and being a politician, as you well know at this point, are two very different things. Why did you decide that you wanted to go into politics?

Rep.-elect Frost

I actually think organizing and legislating and being a member of Congress are a lot more similar than we think it is. The crux of what we do up here is work to pass legislation. You have to get buy-in from your colleagues, and you have to sometimes work with people across the aisle as well. Organizing is all about bringing people together around a common shared value for a specific outcome and asking them to take action. It could be knocking doors. It could be protesting. In this case, it’s casting a ballot and asking them to also help you inspire other people to be involved. So I think that’s part of the reason that we could use more organizers in Congress: Maybe we would get some more things done.

Another big function of a member of Congress is to be a community leader, to build power in the community and to help shift the narrative and really use the bully pulpit to change the way people think about these issues. I think about Representative Cori Bush. When they took out the eviction moratorium [on renters in 2021], she knew what it was like to sleep on the streets, and she slept on the Capitol steps. And because of her advocacy, it was extended, and people stayed in their homes.

Noel King

The results of the 2022 midterms and the results of the past couple of years suggest that Florida is becoming a red state. It used to be a swing state. When you were young, it was one of the swingiest states. What do you think the Democratic Party is doing wrong? How is it losing Florida?

Rep.-elect Frost

Sometimes, especially in Florida, these Democratic campaigns end up being campaigns of just rebutting Republicans. Right. The Republicans call you this name — you spend a million dollars on a commercial that says, “I’m not that.” Republicans say, you believe this. You spend a million dollars on commercials saying you didn’t do that. We spend so much time talking about what we’re not and don’t spend as much time talking about what we are and what we believe in. What I found in my organizing is people are more apt and excited to vote for you if they have something to believe in. … [Election night] was very bittersweet for me because I obviously had my win in my historic win, but we lost a lot of great people in our state legislature, so there’s still a lot of work to do in Florida.

Noel King

When you were campaigning, you talked a lot about love, which was interesting. It’s not a word you hear all the time in political campaigns. And you talked about thinking beyond partisanship. Now, research has shown that a lot of millennials refused to run for office because of the perceived toxicity of Congress — the partisanship, the fights, the refusing to work across the aisle. You seem like a very optimistic man. How are you going to deal with gridlock and partisanship and just straight negativity?

Rep.-elect Frost

Yeah. I mean, and Congress is toxic.

Noel King

Oh, you agree? Okay.

Rep.-elect Frost

I mean, we know this, right? It’s something I’ve had to square. I’m going into a system that has caused a lot of harm historically. But I also think that to give up on government as a path toward the world we want is to almost give up on our greatest tool that we have. … I think we have to use every tool in our toolbox. We got to vote. We got to protest. We got to be involved in our arts and culture, because that changes the way that our society thinks about these issues. And we also got to engage in mutual aid so we can take care of each other.

I was just talking with a colleague about this a few [days] ago [while] we were at a dinner …partisanship is even built into the operation of Congress. There’s different cloakrooms. Republicans sit on one side. Democrats sit on the other side. At this orientation, we have different dinners every night that are separated. There really has not, as of yet, been bipartisan things that we’ve done besides the classes that we were sitting in. We’re not really talking to each other. We’re trying to pay attention to what’s being said. I think it really even subconsciously continues to sow in the divide that we have right now, which is unfortunate. Obviously, look, I’m really new here and I think there’s obviously traditions … but I can tell some of the reasons why there’s so much divide. Things are just divided, even in the operation of the way Congress works.

The other thing I’ll say is part of the reason why these times are becoming even more divided is we have a far-right MAGA movement that is scapegoating every vulnerable community for every problem there is. It’s hard to come to the table with someone who doesn’t respect your humanity. Imagine being a queer legislator and coming into this body or being a trans legislator and coming to this body, having to sit across from someone and talk about issues [with someone] who doesn’t value your existence as a human. That’s something that we have to square and figure out.

Bipartisanship is incredibly important — compromise is part of governing — but we also have to we also have to be very frank about the dangers looming in in government right now and this threat against our democracy, which is really this far-right movement that doesn’t want to work with other people, that wants to blame everybody else for all the problems that are going on and wants to look working-class people in the face and tell them that the source of their problem isn’t the people who are making the most money or the people who have traditionally had the most, but it’s their fellow neighbor who might look different than them.

In this political work, we have to really pierce that and get straight to the humanity of people and just talk about the fact that we’re all part of this grand mosaic of humanity. You can eat and I can eat — you can succeed and I can succeed. In fact, our great successes are really tied together. [With] that message, I’ve seen it strike a chord with Republicans, with Democrats, with progressives, with moderates, with all different types of people in my district. That’s the message that I think is a winning one.

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