Women's History Month: U.S. Rep. and IOP Alum Elise Stefanik

Elise Stefanik served on the Institute’s Student Advisory Committee as Vice President and graduated from Harvard University in 2006. On January 3, 2015 she became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Elise took the time to discuss why she thinks more young women don’t run for office, narrowing the gap on gender equality and what the future of the GOP and American politics in general may hold.

Nearly one hundred years after the first woman served in the U.S. Congress, last fall you became the youngest woman ever elected to do so. What did that mean to you, and why do you think more young women don’t run for office? 

I am incredibly excited, honored and humbled to add an additional crack to the glass ceiling. When I first announced my candidacy in 2013 against an incumbent Member of Congress, I was viewed as a total underdog. To many outside viewers, it seemed like an impossibility for a young, first-time candidate like me to be a formidable candidate in the general election. The media discussed my young age and gender throughout the early parts of the campaign because it was such a rare demographic for a Congressional candidate. I believe that one of my campaign's key strategies was turning this from what could have been a traditionally perceived weakness to an incredible strength as it became very clear that voters were looking for a new generation of candidates with high energy and fresh ideas. 

I did not know when I first announced that I would be the youngest women ever elected to Congress; I only discovered this after winning my primary. An amazing phenomenon started happening at campaign events when parents started bringing their young school-aged daughters to events.  These were families of all political affiliations and some who were not even involved in politics who don't typically attend rallies or campaign stops. They would tell me they brought their daughters because they wanted them to see a role model of what they could achieve. It was and continues to be a tremendously humbling feeling.

Many regard you as the future of the GOP, both as a thought leader and a woman.  How do you see the future of the GOP changing, if at all?

The outcome of the 2014 elections made it very clear that Americans are looking for a new direction. They want a government that works and that is focused on economic growth and job creation. I believe that the path to growing the GOP is to have a positive message with new types of candidates. As a Party, we also must be willing to reach out, talk and listen to regions of the country that previous Republican candidates have failed to focus on. The good news is that we have a historic number of Republican governors who are excelling at bringing new ideas to the table and reaching out and speaking to new groups.

We have come a long way in electing women to Congress, but what are more steps we can take to narrow the gender gap on in Washington?

I believe that the more women we have in Congress, the more likely we will have increasing numbers of female candidates. I hope that my election will serve as an example to other women who are looking to bring new ideas to public service by providing them with the confidence that they need to step into the arena. I also cannot underscore the importance of organizations that explicitly support female candidates. Some of the first groups that came out in support of me were: VIEWPAC (Value in Electing Women PAC), RightNow Women PAC, WUFPAC (Women Under 40 PAC), and Susan B. Anthony's List. These are all groups that work to elect women in Congress.

What do you see as the future of American politics?

Despite the frustration with Washington, I am an eternal optimist and believe that the future of American politics is bright. I am one of two millennials in Congress and am proud to not only be the youngest women ever elected to Congress, but the current youngest member of Congress. Millennials have completely disrupted sectors of our economy for the better, and it's only inevitable that my generation will grow in our numbers in Congress. The ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit that helped usher in companies like Facebook and Uber needs to be applied to government. We need new ideas. And we need elected officials who have the courage to lead. I believe millennials have both qualities.