WASHINGTON, D.C. — Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, was one of two state representatives to receive a national 2021 Rising Star award on Friday from the Millennial Action Project, which works to help young leaders bridge the partisan divide.
“We’re not going to agree on everything — let’s just say that upfront — we’re not going to agree on everything. And that’s okay. But we all know these issues are out there, and we just have to work together to try to achieve [solutions to] the problems facing us,” said Carney said in his acceptance speech.
Arkansas State Rep. Jamie Scott, D-North Little Rock, also won the award.
At the ceremony, Carney was described as an example of bipartisan leadership working across the aisle alongside Democratic colleagues to “help pass impactful policy, including legislation that strengthens the rights of long term care residents and provides them with high speed internet access.” He also worked on bills to combat the opioid crisis and protect students “who experience or witness sexual assault, stalking, or violence from disciplinary action by their universities.”
He was further described as “a phenomenal example of how young legislators can bridge divides, personally and through legislative action.”
The organization promotes and sets up congressional caucuses for young legislators throughout the country, said Carney, who is co-chair of the Connecticut Future Caucus with Rep. John-Michael Parker, D-Madison.
“It’s a caucus for younger members of the legislature to get together to just talk about issues and maybe we can find some common ground and propose legislation. Usually the focus is on the economy, jobs, education, environment energy, with a focus more on the future… We’re starting to really come into our own and starting to really take leadership positions. We’re the ones who are going to have to deal with a lot of that going forward.”
One purpose of the caucus is to help young legislators build personal relationships.
“Part of it is to try to just get together and have conversations not necessarily about politics, but to get to know one another beyond our political roles,” Carney said. “I think it helps a lot when you get to know another legislator, particularly one across the aisle that you don’t normally talk to as much.”
Carney said that it’s an old school way of doing business, even though it’s with millennials.
“Politicians used to talk to folks across the different parties more frequently and get to know each other. You know, it’s one of those things where you can have that disagreement on the floor about a policy but at the end of the day, hopefully we can remain friends,” he said.
He said that being the “bridge” is particularly important in the current political climate.
“We’re going to disagree on stuff, which is good and healthy in a lot of ways. But, you want to try to have some sort of conversation and cooperation, to try to do good things for the people in the state and it doesn’t necessarily have to be partisan all the time.”
Carney said he found value in hearing multiple approaches to an issue, which the events like the Future Summit of Millennial Action Project provided.
“I love learning from other legislators across the country. For example, we last met two years ago now because of COVID, but I talked to a Democrat from Alabama, and we were just talking a lot about what each of our states are doing to try to promote job growth, to try to attract young people, things like that. It really is pretty neat to be able to have that network available.”
Carney said that when he first ran in 2014, he felt there weren’t enough young people in Hartford.
“I wanted to see my generation represented and I think older generations wanted to see my generation represented — they want us to take charge of issues facing our nation and our states that are going to affect them, too, including the public health crisis we’ve seen over the last two years … and that goes along with opioid abuse as well, that’s something that has deeply affected our generation,” he said.
He said it was the “honor of a lifetime” to represent his hometown and he hoped more young people would take the same step.
“We need young people to get involved in everything that brings communities together and work together for the best future for not only ourselves, but the generations after us because that’s key. You want to leave this place better than when you got here,” he said.
In his acceptance speech, Carney referenced the late Sen. Bob Dole and the late former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
“[Dole] did say all the wisdom doesn’t reside in one party and he’s 100 percent right. I am a Republican but I’m not going to say an idea is bad because it comes from a Democrat,” Carney said. “I think too often, we see that in politics today, where we’re at each other’s throats, and it doesn’t help anybody.”
Carney said Powell embodied bipartisanship in his spirit of patriotism and putting his country before himself.
“He said, ‘The ties that bind us are stronger than the occasional stresses that separate us.’ And he’s absolutely right. So much unites us as Americans. And we need to work together to make our country the best place it can be. [There are] things that we’re divided on — and yes, we’ll be divided on [those] — but let’s not make it ruin everything that’s great about this country.”