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Suffolk Del. Clark is the youngest member of a Virginia General Assembly trending younger

Del. Nadarius E. Clark at his swearing-In ceremony for the Virginia House of Delegates in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Maglione)
Del. Nadarius E. Clark at his swearing-In ceremony for the Virginia House of Delegates in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Maglione)

Del. Nadarius Clark, D-Suffolk, is the youngest representative in the Virginia General Assembly. The 28-year-old Hampton Roads native strives to get more young people involved in politics. 

Clark came to Richmond to attend Virginia Union University, where he studied fine arts, including music and theater. He became involved in politics through activism after graduation. 

This story was reported and written by our media partner Capital News Service

He worked as a campaign organizer with Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, who previously served as the state's governor from 2006-2010. That is where Clark said he “learned to meet people where they are” and find out what issues are important to them.

Kaine noticed Clark’s drive to “bring real, lasting, and positive change.”

“Young people can bring a fresh perspective and an urgency to critical issues facing our country, which is why I think it’s critical that we have more young people consider public service to serve the community,” Kaine stated.

Clark sees himself as fighting for more than just the people in the 84th District, or Virginia.

“This is a fight that I am doing, you know, nationally, with a lot of other good young people that’s stepping up to the fight and joining in,” Clark said. 

Clark first won public office at age 26 and is now serving his second term as a delegate. The minimum age to run for a state legislative seat is 21.

His peers thought he was too young, and should have more “life experience” before he was ready to be a delegate, Clark said. 

“Ageism is sadly still alive, but you have to combat it by showing up as who you are every single day,” Clark said.

Government will work more “efficiently and effectively” when all voices are heard and represented — from lawmaking to the state budget and appointing judges, he said.

“That means all ages and all demographics, all religion, religious groups, all genders and gender identities, you know, all should be welcomed,” Clark said.

The average age of politicians currently serving in Congress is just under age 61, according to Statista. The average age in the Virginia General Assembly is just under 54, according to Virginia Public Access Project data. 

“There’s no problem with having that age group, but when it’s one group that clearly dominates the governing body, then we have a problem,” Clark said.

The new class of state senators who took office in January is the youngest since 2008, with a median age of 54 years, according to VPAP. The median age in the House has also trended younger after the most recent election, with a median age of 53.5.

Although just over 25% of the population are ages 21-34, only 5.7% of the state legislature falls in that age range, according to VPAP.

There are things Clark’s generation faces that are completely new problems, especially with technology such as social media and artificial intelligence, he said. 

“If you didn't grow up in certain things, you don't have certain experiences,” Clark said. “We all have something to offer. If you're a baby boomer, if you’re a millennial, if you’re a Gen Z — we all bring something to the table.”

Clark wants to give younger people an opportunity to experience the General Assembly, something he did not have in high school or middle school. He invited over 200 students from Hampton Roads-area high schools to visit and learn about the legislative process, and created summer internships for young adults.

“We get young people seeing things and being in different environments that they might not be used to,” Clark said. “We get them involved with their delegates.’

Clark’s connection to the community left an impression on neighboring legislator Del. Shelly Simonds, D-Newport News, who has held office since 2020.

“He as a candidate would always show up to community forums and community events,” Simonds said.

That connection to the region and to the younger generation has influenced Clark’s legislation, Simonds said.

Clark has tackled issues such as medical debt, teacher pay, rent control, water quality, microplastics and climate change. 

“He’s really connected to what the future looks like for his generation if we don’t deal with climate change and sea level rise, especially in Hampton Roads,” Simonds said. “Sea level rise is a huge deal for us.”

Clark is beginning to hit a legislative stride under a Democratic majority in the House. 

He took office in 2022, when Republicans had just won back a House majority. He introduced 24 bills in his first term, but most did not survive the committees. His bill to expand the payment term for medical debt passed, but was vetoed.

 This session, the start of his second term, he introduced 15 bills. 

His six bills on medical debt, firearm safety, teacher pay, firemen retirement and fentanyl awareness passed the General Assembly and are waiting to be signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin. 

The bill to require a firearm locking device in homes with a minor was recently vetoed by the governor.

“I think it’s inspiring for young people to see someone like Nadarius in office making a difference, standing up for them, giving speeches, saying what they would say,” Simonds said.

She hopes Clark’s service will inspire younger voters.

College-aged people are among the largest voting block, yet tend to have the lowest turnout in elections, Almost 23% of Virginia voters ages 18-29 voted in the 2022 midterm election, a 10.5 decrease from the 2018 turnout, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.

But 2022 midterm turnout was still higher for that age group than in 2014.

When young voters turn out, they are more likely to have better representation, according to Kaine.

“There is so much on the line for younger voters including the future of our planet, good-paying jobs, and reproductive freedom – and to make their voices heard so that our country gives every person a chance,” Kaine stated.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.