Here on the Stay Work Play NH blog, we’re celebrating young leaders all over the state — and we have a lot to celebrate! Last fall, New Hampshire saw a boost in young people taking office at the state level. In fact, 42 of our representatives are under 40 years old. You’ll get to meet all of them on this space, but we also want to shine a spotlight on the young people leading their communities at the local level!
Meet Rebecca Perkins Kwoka! Born and raised in Stratham, Rebecca is a native of the seacoast region. She is a City Councilor in Portsmouth, the VP and General Counsel for SunRaise Investments, and an all-around champion for housing affordability! She is also someone I personally admire for her fearlessness — if there is anything I have learned from Rebecca it is that nothing is impossible.
Tell us about your “Path to Politics” — what made you decide to get involved?
I believe that increasing housing stock – especially in dense, urban centers – is critically important to the continued vitality of the state because of the need for workforce growth. To increase housing stock, you need to have the right zoning. City Councils and Selectboards change the zoning, so I decided to stop being an advocate and become one of the decision-makers. In addition, I had a group of friends that was excited about the idea and wanted to help me figure out how to campaign.
If you could only accomplish one thing while in office, what would it be?
The 13 cities in the state would revitalize their downtowns through dense, mixed-use zoning. I think it would have many, many ripple effects that are positive for the state.
What advice would you give to another young person interested in getting involved in politics in NH?
Go for it! All of those doubts and fears that you have when you are thinking about this idea will resolve themselves. The state desperately needs more young decision makers who represent more sustainable, modern ideas that incorporate the shared economy and the advantages of technology. You will figure out how to get elected, and you will learn about the issues you’re going to vote on – if you’re thinking about it, you probably already know a lot about it, and more than most people in fact. It is part of holding elected office that subjects will come in front of you that you are not familiar with. It is part of the job and what makes it interesting. You learn them, you ask questions of your staff, you research on your own, you speak to advocates and opponents, and you figure out what your vote is. It takes work, but no one expects you to know every issue you will vote on before you enter office – no one does!
What advice do you have for citizen advocates?
Run for office! But if you really won’t consider it, then be an advocate who takes the time to understand the constraints on your decision maker. You don’t have to agree with them, and you can present them as opportunities for your decision maker to be bold, but know what they are. Being an advocate who ignores all the realities of an official’s decision makes you less effective than if you understand both sides of the issue. In addition, have a specific proposal and be prepared to do (almost all of) the work. Any elected official in New Hampshire is likely a volunteer with a full-time job and does not have time to draft a resolution, bill, or other item related to your issue. Figure out what the right action is at their level, draft it, send it to them in advance over email, make it clear that you are willing to do the research to answer any further questions they have, show up to the public meeting where it is being considered, and support them in the newspaper and online. It may seem like something small you are asking, but we sometimes get multiple of these requests per week, and they all take time from our families, our weekends, and our hours of sleep. Be considerate of what you are asking by being willing to do the work to support their efforts.
Finally, just for fun, tell us something about yourself that will surprise people.
I lived in West Africa for two and a half years! Right after college I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal, West Africa, where I taught small business development. It was wonderful! It was a great, meaningful two years of my life that gave me some perspective on our “first world problems” and made me grateful for how much we do well here in America.