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Living History: Elise Stefanik, the Youngest Woman Ever Elected to Congress

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Did you know that the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress also represents the Empire State? Well, now you do — meet 30-year-old Albany native Elise Stefanik, who made history on Tuesday when she was sworn into the 114th Congress.

Defeating Democrat Aaron Woolf last November to represent New York’s 21st Congressional District, Stefanik is also the first Republican to win the district in decades; Democrats have held it since 1993.

As millennial, Stefanik says she’s eager to engage with younger voters and other millennials with political ambitions. One challenge she will face is trying to bring a conservative message — she wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, opposes New York’s current gun-control laws, and opposes any pathway to amnesty for undocumented immigrants — to younger people, who in the last two presidential elections were more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than other Americans on average.

“I’m really interested in having a conversation with other new millennial candidates… whether they’re Republican or Democrat, about our nation’s debt and spending,” Stefanik told CBS News. “Because my generation will inherit the spending.”

One way Stefanik is hoping to capture the attention of younger people is by developing a strong social media presence. Stefanik, who attended Harvard at the same time as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, was one of Facebook’s first users. Today she plans on continuing her use of Facebook and other social media by incorporating them into her legislative agenda.

“One of my ideas is that we post every vote on Facebook and on social media, so that voters have an opportunity to hold their elected official accountable,” Stefanik said.

Another social media connection is to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, whom Stefanik says strongly influenced her decision to run for office. Sandberg’s chart-topping book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, is a favorite of Stefanik’s, who hopes that her success will inspire other women to “step up to the plate” and run for office as well.

Despite her age, Stefanik is no stranger to politics and Washington, D.C. Fresh out of college, she worked on the Domestic Policy Council in the Bush administration, and has since worked with high-profile Republican politicians like Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 elections. After the Romney-Ryan ticket’s defeat in 2012, Stefanik moved to upstate New York to work on marketing and managing for her family’s business, Premium Plywood Products, which granted her opportunities to interact with the district’s residents. The rest, as they say, is history.

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