Tuesday, August 23, 2016



“Thoughts From a U.S. Congresswoman”

What’s your coming-into-politics story?
I got involved in politics when, in middle school, I led the effort to get a snack machine for middle-schoolers. I was particularly proud of that, and when I talk to young girls today, that’s a story that resonates with them.

I decided to run for Congress after the 2012 election, I was disappointed in the lack of young people and fresh ideas coming from Washington. I also was concerned about the young people leaving upstate New York and specifically leaving the 12 counties that I represent in the North Country. I believe we have one of the most dynamic regions in New York state, and I want this district to be a place where young people, if they leave to get educated, they come back here to raise their families, to start businesses and help fuel economic growth.

What are the challenges of being a woman in politics?
I was 28 when I started running for Congress — that’s not a traditional Congressional candidate. The average age of a member of Congress is 60 years old, and it’s predominantly male. When I started having conversations with community leaders, local elected officials, I think at first blush, they were pretty surprised that someone so young and such a nontraditional candidate would step into the arena.

I was criticized initially for being a young woman and a lot of the advice, which turned out to be bad advice, was to run away from that fact, try to be something you’re not and sound like everybody else. But I realized pretty quickly that authenticity and embracing the fact I was young, a woman, and not a traditional candidate, ended up being a real strength. I ran with the slogan, “new ideas and a new generation of leadership,” and all generations are looking for that, all political parties are looking for that.
In my first term, I’m really proud of the energy I brought to this job and the bipartisanship to get things done on behalf of this district.

Why is it important for more women to get involved in politics?
We need to have more women in elected offices at all levels. I find that in Congress I have some of the most effective working relationships with women across the aisle. I also find that when there are more role models for young girls to look up to, they are more likely to see themselves in that position. One part of this job that I didn’t know I was getting into is serving as a role model, specifically for young girls.

After my primary, the media started covering my campaign because I would be the youngest woman ever elected to congress. I didn’t know that when I started, and it was amazing. Families started bringing their young daughters to campaign events, a lot of times these weren’t political families, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, but they wanted to show their daughters they, too, could run for Congress someday.

I also want to make sure every woman understands their perspective, their uniqueness of perspective as a woman is an asset. It makes you make policies that are friendly to our hardworking families. I think of economic issues for women entrepreneurs that are starting businesses. In my district, I represent a lot of medical device manufacturers, and I noticed when I toured them that 90 percent of the workforce was made up of women, so I started talking about that issue as a woman’s issue. It really resonated with so many members of the workforce who rely on those good-paying jobs for their family’s livelihood.

Who was a role model for you?
(My) most important role models are my mom and my dad. When I was 7 years old they started our business, Premium Plywood Products. We sell to thousands of customers around upstate New York. Now in politics I have tremendous role models in this district because this district has a history of electing women. Sen. Betty Little, who sets the standard for constituent service and getting around a big state senate district; Sen. Kathy Marchione, who is wonderful to work with and Sen. Patty Ritchie (48th). It’s incredible to have three effective state senators representing this district.

At the federal level, when I was running in my primary, two female members of Congress really stuck their necks out for me and encouraged their colleagues to pay attention to my campaign and this district – Ann Wagner (Missouri) and Diane Black (Tennessee) They’re my role models, my friends in Congress. I sit on a committee with them focused on women’s recruitment, how we can get more women in office and get women through tough primaries.

I think Trump is tapping into frustration with the status quo and certain statements he’s made I’ve spoken out against. I’m supportive of women’s empowerment, and I’ve been critical of some of those statements regarding women, but what I’ve found in this district is many men and many women are looking for a new direction. They’ve seen eight years of failed leadership and regardless of whether they agree or disagree with certain issues, they want a new direction for this country, I think that’s why you’re seeing so much support for Trump. But I’ll keep speaking out on statements when I don’t think they are respectful, and when I disagree.

How do we get more women into politics?
We need you, we need your ideas, and the only way it’s going to get better is if we have creative, innovative candidates stepping up to run for office from a diverse set of backgrounds. I look at my friends who are starting businesses or taking over their family’s farms or starting families – having that youthful perspective and fresh voice would make the policy-making process so much more effective and commonsense. I’ve found, when you look at my bipartisan work in Congress, I’ve reached across the aisle, many of the issues I’ve partnered with women colleagues across the aisle. When it comes to more women running for office, one of the most effective skill sets any elected official has is listening. And oftentimes, elected officials unfortunately spend more time talking than they do listening, and I think women in particular, are effective listeners and when you bring a group of people to the table and hear different perspectives. Part of that listening is finding out where the other person is coming from, and that helps the policy process and the final product when you’re writing legislation.

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