On November 4, 2014 Elise Stafanik became the youngest woman ever elected to the United States Congress, at the age of 30. A Republican from upstate New York, she defeated her Democratic opponent by a whopping 22 percent. Appointed to the powerful House Armed Services Committee for the 114th Congress, Stafanik is a rising star in national politics. But while her party has their eye on her, she has her eye on her own generation, best known as the millennials. This is now the largest generation in the history of America, in population. And while they turned out for President Obama in big numbers in 2008, they have since retreated from politics. As one of their own, Stafanik understands this group, probably better than anyone else in Congress.
The Harvard graduate is chairing a meeting for fellow Republicans in Congress, called “Millennials and the GOP.” Her lineup of guest speakers includes experts who will describe the demographic, political, and cultural attributes of this diverse generation. “I want to help Congress put together a vision and set of policies that resonate with my generation,” she says. One of the witnesses is Harvard pollster John Della Volpe, who just concluded a 15-year study on this generation. His findings conclude that young Americans are uniquely civic minded. They volunteer in record numbers, but they are disconnected from politics and government.
Stafanik believes there is an opportunity for whatever party adapts to the millennials’ spirit of bipartisan problem solving. “My generation is very tolerant and tries to build relationships and build teams,” she says. “They support limited government and a bottom-up approach to governing. Millennials are up for grabs if we can actually connect with them on those issues.”
As baby boomers age and as the millennials move into leadership, we need to listen to them. A few years ago, they were our future. Now they are our present. We need to connect with this generation, whatever the cost. We must respect them and learn from them. I, for one, applaud their spirit of volunteerism and independence. We must hear them from up close, not from a distance. For that reason, I am grateful that the people of upstate New York had the good sense to elect a 30-year-old woman to Congress. In just six months in office, Rep. Elise Stafanik has already taught us a valuable lesson. The millennials are no longer coming. They are here.