An 18-year-old West Virginia University freshman was elected to the state’s House of Delegates on Tuesday, and is poised to be the youngest active lawmaker in the U.S. when she’s sworn in.
Saira Blair says she will defer her spring semester classes to travel to the state’s capitol in Charleston and participate in the 60-day legislative session from January to March. She will be representing the 59th district of 18,000 people in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle, not far from Washington, D.C. She’ll make up her classes in the summer and fall.
Blair started to make news in May when, at only 17, she defeated a 67-year-old Republican incumbent in the Republican primary. She turned 18 in July, just in time to meet the age requirement to serve as a state delegate. She is the daughter of Craig Blair, a state Senator. She donated $3,600 of her own money to the campaign. Blair is staunchly conservative, holding anti-abortion, pro-gun, and anti-gay marriage views, according to her campaign website. She is also a proponent of voter ID laws, and she wants to repeal a law in West Virginia that has led to unusually high gas taxes.
Planning to major in Spanish and Economics, Blair says she wants to be a financial adviser when she graduates. She took a break after classes in geography and computer science to talk to TIME about what it’s like to campaign in college and the best way to bring more jobs to West Virginia.
Why did you run this year instead of waiting until you were older?
I’ve grown up with father as a politician since I was six years old. I’ve always known it was something that I’d be interested in one day. I never knew it would be at such a young age. After my junior year of high school, I decided to run because I attended a program called Youth and Government, where 300 students go down to Charleston, they write a bill, they hear it in committee, and they bring it out on house floor. After hearing some of the bills that students came up with, and seeing that they were fully capable of doing the job that people 40, 50, years older than them were doing, I realized that I didn’t have to wait.
What did your parents think when you told them you planned to run?
My parents were surprised. They thought I was crazy for wanting to do it, because they know the lifestyle, and they know that it is a lot of work, and it’s tolling on you, but they were incredibly supportive nonetheless, and have been really great helping me along the way.
What was it like running your campaign out of your college dorm room this fall?
It wasn’t too terrible. I’ve been able to keep up my GPA. I would go to classes in the morning, and in the afternoon, I would come to my room and write [handwritten] letters [to almost 4,000 voters].
Were your friends supportive?
They are so excited to see someone their age running that they’ve helped hold up signs for me and they’ve helped stuffed envelopes. I couldn’t have done it without them.
What sorts of things do you like to do on campus? What do you and your friends do?
I’m very involved with the student government association. I’ve also been involved in various smaller programs on campus just to test the waters. I’ve tried knitting club, crafting club, cooking club, and community service. My friends and I like to go out to eat a lot. We just found a new Thai restaurant down town we really like.
What issues are most important to you?
Most important to me is jobs in West Virginia. I’ve watched too many people get a high school and college education and then leave the state because they cannot get a good paying job. I want to get jobs to West Virginia and one of the biggest ways to do that would be making west Virginia a right-to-work state [which would prohibit businesses from requiring employees to be part of a union or pay union dues].