ON THE RISE — REP. AJAY PITTMAN
February 15, 2023
On the Rise is a year-long series leading up to MAP’s ten year anniversary. The series features profiles of Millennial and Gen Z legislators in the Millennial Action Project’s State Future Caucus Network (SFCN) network. The SFCN is a bipartisan network of young elected officials that engages with over 1,600 legislators across the country to work on future-oriented policy solutions. Future Caucus members are committed to pragmatically working toward a culture of political cooperation.
In a recent interview, Rep. Ajay Pittman, a member of the SFCN, opened up about her experience, passions, and policy work as an elected Democrat in Oklahoma. Read on to learn more about Rep. Pittman:
Meet Ajay Pittman:
“I’m a sixth generation Oklahoman and proud citizen of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. I ran for office at the age of 24. I currently serve as the state representative for House District 99 and am the third Seminole to serve in the Oklahoma State Legislature. I am proud to be a legacy in leadership. My mom, a former Representative of House district 99 and State Senator, and I have been celebrated as history-makers for being the first mother and daughter legacy in the Oklahoma state legislature.”
Describe the moment you decided to run for office, and were there motivating factors to your decision?
“The call to service was important because my community needed someone who could step up and step in. I was there to learn the legislative process at a very young age prior to being elected, and I would be there to lead the next generation of leaders. I had political mentors, senators and legislative members who watched me grow up in the State Capitol all cheering me on. My family roots run deep in Oklahoma and in my district, which made my hubble decision to run for office easier in honor of my native grandmother. I was inspired to ‘keep the fire burning’ for my culture and my community.”
There’s been an increase of young people running for office. What advice would you give to those who are considering running in the future?
“Know your why? That’s easier said than done, of course. I would suggest people know what issues are important to them. I am in a supermajority legislature in the state of Oklahoma meaning that there are a large number of Republicans and there’s only 20 Democrats in the house. When you look at that number you can get discouraged, but I know my why? My why, or reason, is to be inclusive and promote diversity in developing policy, which is to help create a platform for young people to be able to run after me and dispel the myth of young people not being civically engaged and socially responsible. To set an example for them that you can still get work done in this type of climate. My goal is not to argue or debate all the time. My goal is to find ‘common ground.’ My goal is to represent my community, and understanding the tolerance level of others and what it takes to work across the aisle is key for the job.”
Legislators are supposed to shift from polarized campaigning to effective governing. What was the switch like for you and what did you find useful in this transition?
“You get in here [the state capital] and it seems like an allstars game. Everyone is a star coming to the capital… You have got to find your way to work with other allstars. Because everybody isn’t going to be the LeBron James of the capital, so find where you can best use your tools to contribute to the team.
When you are campaigning, you have consultants that consult on how to run and win, but when you get in office a lot of people don’t give you the tools that you need. When young people run and win, they often have never had to run an office, lead a staff before, or handle interns because they probably were an intern before this…. Get those leadership tools under your belt so when you come in you know how to manage staff, personalities. MAP has helped me here — both personally and professionally. MAP has given me these kinds of clear goals and tools that help young leaders navigate through this process of leadership. I have the privilege to serve on panels and show our next generation that we can be both socially responsible and civically engaged.”
One issue that you are particularly passionate about is criminal justice reform. How do you see the potential for collaboration across the aisle in this policy area in your state?
“Our governor, Kevin Stitt (R-OK), is pushing the Sarah Stitt Act 2.0. Sarah Stitt is his wife who is big on criminal justice reform. The first act that was named after her basically helped people reentering society get their driver’s license, birth certificate, and other documents that help them get back into the workforce. Now the state wants to do the 2.0 version of that bill. I looked at the Georgia model of community supervision and have ideas on how Oklahoma should be doing reentry. I am excited to work with my colleagues on criminal justice reform, more specifically on re-entry this year. I think that is an area where we can find common ground.”
What policy impact has the Future Caucus had in your state?
“The Future Caucus presented state leaders with the opportunity to collaborate with other national leaders in a bipartisan way. We are transforming young American political leaders. The Future Caucus has been a safe space for young diverse elected officials to share experiences and best practices. We have learned how to become innovative in our leadership which is crucial for our state. Broadband is something that myself and the Oklahoma Future Caucus co-chairs recently worked on.* Also healthcare, particularly around maternal health and infant mortality** has been a top issue for us.”***
The Oklahoma house legislative session kicked off this week. What is something that you are looking forward to in the legislature this year?
“I have learned that the beginning of session will always be crazy. I am constantly asked if I am ready, but honestly I feel more grounded in my seat this year than any time in the past. Even though I am a legacy member and hold institutional knowledge that I am forever grateful for, you still have to get comfortable in your shoes to lead. This year, I feel that comfort with the process. I feel comfortable knowing how to navigate getting committee assingments, getting bills heard on agendas, working with other colleagues, looking at other bills and saying ‘okay here is what I want to debate and amend.’ I think one of the biggest things is knowing yourself and having the confidence to do it. With that being said, I am excited to collaborate and dive in headfirst and get to work.”
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