You Don’t Need to Ask for Permission

In 2018, female representation among Republican women was at a 25-year low.

Chanikarn Thongsupa

LBJ Library

Brendan Smialowski, Agence France-Presse

The Blog
The Blog

You Don’t Need to Ask for Permission

Have you ever been told that your idea is unrealistic? That you can’t make a difference? That you’re too young or too old or too whatever to affect real change? For a long time, we have lived in a very top-down society, where leadership positions dictate the course ahead. This isn’t just true in politics, but in every industry and occupation in this country. It’s hard to defy that. But more and more we are seeing groups that were previously looked down upon – young people, women, minorities, etc. – take matters into their own hands. That’s exactly what Elise Stefanik (NY-21; age 36) did when Republican leadership turned up their noses at her desire to recruit more Republican women to run for office.

In 2018, after the midterm elections, Democrats had 89 women in the House, while Republicans had dropped from 23 to 13 women! The Republican women held a whopping 3% of House Republican seats (compared to 20% of Democrat seats). Female representation among House Republicans was at a 25-year low.

Elise, who was elected in 2014 at the age of 30 (at the time the youngest women ever elected to Congress), was the first female head of recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). She had recruited over 100 Republican women to run for Congress in 2018. Unfortunately, the NRCC was not dedicating enough resources to them and many kept losing to white men in the primaries.

During a Republican forum, Elise did what few of us might have courage to do – she stood up to her ‘superiors’ and said, “Look around, this is not reflective of the American public,” to a room full of predominately white males.

No one had a good answer as to how to recruit more women. Even after she circulated a letter asking for help from leadership, no one seemed alarmed by the problem. Elise, having lost faith in the traditional way of doing things, stepped away from the NRCC.

She was told she was making a big mistake. Her response? “Newsflash, I wasn’t asking for permission.” Not only is this a pretty baller move, but it’s an exceptional example of how the young leaders in this country can really shape the way we approach our future. You might love Elise, you might not, but it’s important to note her ability to recognize a problem and take the initiative to solve it, despite being told time and time again that it was unsolvable.

Elise started her own PAC called Elevate PAC. Elevate PAC was founded to engage, empower, and elevate Republican women to win their primaries. In 2020, there were 12 new Republican women elected to Congress. In one election cycle, Elise and her team were able to almost double the number of Republican women in the House. Two of those incoming Republican women will be featured on Political Playlist, Nancy Mace (South Carolina-1; age 42) and Lauren Boebert (Colorado-3; age 35). We’ll see if Elevate PAC can continue that pace in 2022 and beyond. As Debbie Walsh, the Director of The Center for American Women and Politics said, “Advances for women must come from both sides of the aisle if women are to achieve equal representation in Congress.”

If you have not already, be sure to read the book The One’s We’ve Been Waiting For by Charlotte Alter, which discusses how a new generation of leaders, like Elise, will transform America.