'I don’t want it to be about my age,' says 18-year-old Saira Blair, nation's youngest state lawmaker

by Eun Kyung Kim /  / Updated 
West Virginia Democrat State Delegate candidate Saira Blair campaigns at the Eastern Panhandle Business Association luncheon at The Purple Iris Restau...
West Virginia Democrat State Delegate candidate Saira Blair campaigns at the Eastern Panhandle Business Association luncheon at The Purple Iris Restaurant in Martinsburg, Va., on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. If Blair defeats Democrat Layne Diehl and a third-party candidate on Nov. 4, she would become the youngest lawmaker in state history. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)Cliff Owen / AP

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Life already moves fast for most 18-year-olds. But for someone who just got elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates, it’s an absolute blur.

“They’ve been crazy,” college freshman Saira Blair said of the last few days since becoming the nation’s youngest state lawmaker. “It’s been a whirlwind.”

Saira Blair, an 18-year-old West Virginia University freshman, will become the youngest state lawmaker in the nation when she takes office.
Saira Blair, an 18-year-old West Virginia University freshman, will become the youngest state lawmaker in the nation when she takes office.Today

On Election Night, Blair thanked loved ones and campaign volunteers at a Buffalo Wild Wings. The next morning, she woke up early and drove two hours from the state capitol to West Virginia University for her geology class.

Blair, an economics major carrying 17 credit hours, said she has attended all of her classes until about two weeks ago, when the general election campaign kicked into high gear.

Her campaign hired a public affairs company to help manage the media attention she first garnered after defeating the 66-year-old Republican incumbent in the May primary. She was a 17-year-old high school senior at the time.

Saira Blair
Today

On Tuesday, Blair trounced a Democratic opponent twice her age, 63 percent to 30 percent. She campaigned as a staunch anti-abortion, fiscal conservative candidate who supports gun rights. But it was hard to overlook what made her stand out among other candidates.

“I don’t want it to be about my age, I want it to be about my issues. And most of the time it has been,” she insisted.

She pledged her top priority will be to bring more jobs to West Virginia so that people like her won’t be forced out of state to build their careers once they graduate from college.

“If you didn’t know any better, you’d think she was 30 years old,” said her mentor, current state senator, and father, Craig Blair.

The elder Blair said his daughter surprised him when she decided about a year and a half ago to run for office. When he asked why, she listed two concerns: The nation’s nearly $18 trillion debt and the way her state continued to inch closer to its “rainy day fund,” which it finally dipped into earlier this year to balance the budget.

“Don’t be fooled by her age,” Craig Blair said. “People are reading way more into it. She’s got it figured out.” 

Saira with her father, Craig Blair, a West Virginia state senator.
Saira with her father, Craig Blair, a West Virginia state senator.Today

When Blair takes office in January, she will be the youngest of 7,383 state legislators nationwide, according to preliminary research by the National Conference of State Legislatures. The average age of a state legislator is 54, because many are retirees or business owners or others with flexible schedules, said Morgan Cullen, senior policy specialist for the organization.

Blair plans to defer her spring semester for each of the next two years so she can attend the part-time legislature’s 60-day session. She plans to make up classes every summer and fall.

“I’ve done the math. It looks as if I’ll be able to graduate December of 2018, instead of Spring of 2018 if I were to serve two terms in the House of Delegates,” she said.

But that doesn't mean she's already looking ahead to winning a second term. She just wants to "keep it open to the possibility," she said, adding she firmly believes in term limits. 

“I don’t believe in career politicians,” she said. Blair would only serve a maximum eight years total in either state legislative chamber before retiring from public office, she said.

“I have no desire to climb the political ladder. Therefore, I don’t see myself serving in any federal positions,” she said.Instead, I would like to use my economics degree here from West Virginia University to become a financial advisor.”

West Virginia Republican State Delegate candidate Layne Diehl, right, and Democratic State Delegate candidate Saira Blair, 17, pose for a photograph w...
Saira Blair poses with Layne Diehl, the Democratic opponent she defeated for a seat in the state legislature.Cliff Owen / Today

Blair said she knew she wanted to be involved in politics ever since participating in a mock government program.

“I decided after that weekend, that I didn’t need to wait until I was 45, that I could do it now,” she said.

When not attending class or on the campaign trail, Blair said she likes to figure skate, hang out with her friends, and attend university football and basketball games. She’s involved with student government, crafting club and the school blood drive.

She also “loves shopping at Goodwill,” her dad said. “She’s just as normal as any other kid, expect she doesn’t waste her time. She won’t go and sit in the mall watching people walk by. That kind of stuff is not in her DNA.”

For now, Blair said she just wants to decompress.

“I’m probably going to sleep,” she said with a laugh about her immediate plans. “I’ve been getting about three hours of sleep every night, so it will be nice to have a weekend to rest.”

If she’s feeling ambitious, she said she may also pick up a book.

“I haven’t had time to sit down and do something fun like that, that requires really no thought,” she said. “I haven’t read a book in probably eight months because I’ve had a lot going on.”

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