I was the youngest woman in Congress. Here’s my advice to those who have taken my place
By, Elise Stefanik
When I was sworn in four years ago, I was given wise counsel by the previous youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Now, I’m proud to do the same.
Now that the 116th Congress is sworn into office, I am proud and honored to pass along the historic distinction as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress to two dynamic, young women who surpassed my record this past election cycle: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa.
During my swearing in four years ago, I felt overwhelmed and awestruck by the outpouring of genuine encouragement and support from my colleagues. One of the most gracious things that happened to me that week was when I opened up Politico and read a column headlined “How to Be Young and Female in Congress” by former New York representative Elizabeth Holtzman, the previous youngest woman ever elected to Congress. I treasure the wise counsel that Elizabeth publicly imparted to me in that piece, and I promised myself I would do the same to the next guardian of the title “youngest woman ever.”
Here is my advice:
1. Encourage other women to beat your record.
You will be asked endlessly what it’s like to be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. This record will become the applause line every time you are introduced in public. Savor those moments, you have earned them. But also understand that along with this record is the responsibility to encourage younger women to seek office and have the courage to step into the arena.
Success means that you serve as a role model for a next generation of women who believe they can run and win at a young age. When asked how long you expect to hold this historic record, the correct answer is “I hope not very long.”
2. Mentor women from all political viewpoints and perspectives.
I have no doubt that moms and dads have already started showing up at your events with young daughters just so they can look up to you as a role model. Your office will be inundated by amazing letters ranging from young girls running for student council, to college students dreaming of one day seeing their name on the ballot, to women currently running.
Some of these women will be from your own political party, including from different ideological wings of your own party, but others will be from opposing political parties. I found this incredibly humbling and still do. Encourage every single one of these young girls and women, regardless of partisanship.
In my election, I had numerous conversations with prospective women candidates seeking mentorship and advice — both Republicans and Democrats. Instead of providing partisan advice, I focused on how to build confidence to run for office, how to build a team, how to run a campaign authentic to the type of leader you want to be and even occasionally how to dress for so many different events (milking cows at a county fair, marching in a parade, attending a business executive roundtable, media interviews, constituent meetings — all in one day!).
I am proud that many of these women — Republicans and Democrats — ran and were successfully elected to local office. I hope our conversations had even a small part in helping these women find their path.
3. Be a workhorse by proving your legislative chops.
I approached my first term in Congress with the mindset that you only have one opportunity to make a good first impression with your colleagues. Particularly given the outsized press coverage that comes with the accolade of the youngest women ever elected title, it is critical that you embrace the old congressional adage “There are work horses and show horses.”
Be the workhorse. Dig into your committees and deliver legislative wins for the nation and your district. A personal lesson for me was when I was humbled to be featured on FOX News Power Player of the Week in my second term. Chris Wallace began the interview asking why I turned him down for the feature immediately after my election. I told him it was because I first wanted to deliver wins and results and earn the respect of my colleagues. I got more positive feedback about that part of the interview than any other.
4. Constituents come first.
Politics turns on a dime today. One year’s superstar can be the candidate who comes up short the next cycle. Always remember who sent you to Congress — your constituents. You will get invitations to speak across the country and stump for candidates ranging from the president to the school board. My advice is to only accept a few, turn most down and dig into your district. It will make you a better member of Congress. And don’t worry, you will continue to receive speaking requests.
5. Be kind and gracious to the U.S. Capitol Police.
You are not the first, nor will you be the last new young member of Congress who gets mistaken for an intern, staffer, or spouse. The Capitol Police are unbelievable public servants who shepherd millions of visitors to the Capitol complex annually. Thank them for their service and when they stop you, point to your pin and proudly say “Nope, I’m a member. The young one!” And then introduce yourself and thank them for what they do.
Good luck, and I look forward to working with you both this Congress. I especially look forwarding to reading your advice to whatever young woman comes after you.
Rep. Elise Stefanik is a Republican congresswoman from New York. She is a member of the Armed Services Committee, the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Follow her on Twitter @elisestefanik.
Read the full article at USA Today here