Before Republican Congress candidate Elise Stefanik worked in the White House or for her family's plywood business, she studied at one of America's best-known colleges. A series of articles she wrote for the famed student newspaper there gives more insight into on her political beliefs.
The 29-year-old, who now lives at her parents' former summer home in Willsboro and also owns a home in Washington, D.C., often touts her small business experience on the campaign trail. Stefanik currently works in marketing for Premium Plywood Products, which is owned and run by her family and based near Albany, where she grew up. However, her years at Harvard University were also influential and offer more of a record of her politics.
At Harvard, Stefanik's studies focused on public policy as a government concentrator in Winthrop House. She served on the Institute of Politics as its vice president. The institute, established in 1966 as a memorial to President John F. Kennedy, hopes to inspire students to consider careers in public service.
Elise Stefanik speaks with the Adirondack Daily Enterprise May 20 at the newspaper office in Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)
Stefanik also worked as the editorial editor of the school's student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson and penned several political opinion pieces during her time in that role, from sophomore to senior year. She wrote on a range of issues, from supporting American soldiers, politics, hectic school life, gender issues and love.
"It was a great outlet for all students to hone their writing skills," she told the Enterprise.
The politics of the day, during her time at the school, focused on the policies of President George W. Bush. Stefanik said she held Republican beliefs then, too, and writing about politics and discussing the issues with Democrats helped form her opinions.
"Our editorial board was pretty liberal," she said. "I was definitely outnumbered, but it really helped me hone and really understand what I really believe."
One piece she wrote was titled "Political vomit." In April 2005, the Harvard Office of Career Services hosted a counterterrorism career panel that included recruiters from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. Two protests of this job fair occurred that day: a march outside the event and another inside.
The protestors "asked ludicrous questions such as 'Isn't it true your train your employees to torture,'" she wrote. They also clapped to halt dialogue and ridiculed students, and a protestor sitting close to Stefanik "physically made himself vomit.
"Yesterday was the first time that I was both embarrassed and ashamed to be associated with my fellow Harvard students," she wrote in the article. "Vomiting and wearing black shrouds referencing Abu Ghraib are not effective means of encouraging positive social change and awareness. Rather than seek mutually beneficial dialogue or intellectually rigorous discourse that would result in an increased, more holistic, awareness, radical students, who I am ashamed to call my peers, engaged in counterproductive debauchery."
Stefanik called the group of anti-war protestors "blindly fanatical ideologues.
"As the political Left often points fingers at Republicans for becoming indoctrinated by the conservative movement, it is imperative to understand that this indoctrination occurs on all sides of the political spectrum as evidenced by yesterday's disrupters," she wrote.
"That was interesting," Stefanik told the Enterprise of the Harvard protest. "That (story) got picked up by the Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web when I published it. ... I think, as the article demonstrates, there is a shift to the left on our college campuses, and it's important to have freedom of speech and speak out on what you believe."
The fact that she called some conservatives indoctrinated could show a more moderate side of the candidate who was endorsed by New York's Conservative Party and is the Republican county chairs' favorite. Her opponent, Watertown investor Matt Doheny, has won the Independence Party nod. His career track went from Alexandria Bay to law school to Wall Street, working for Deutsche Bank.
In another Crimson article called "The Patriotic Partnership," Stefanik talked about unifying the Harvard community, asking her fellow students to support U.S. troops no matter what their opinion was of the Iraq war.
"Supporting U.S. troops who protect America is not about the war in Iraq, it is not about whether one agrees with President Bush's policies, it is not about agreeing with the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy, it is about respect for our peers and countrymen," she wrote.
Stefanik also co-authored an opinion article with former New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, in 2005. Shaheen is now a U.S. senator from New Hampshire but at the time was the head of Harvard's Institute of Politics. The article focused on getting students politically involved and discussed the Institute of Politics' mission.
As a side note, Stefanik went to Harvard at the same time as Mark Zuckerberg, who created Facebook there in 2004 and dropped out of school in his sophomore year.
Stefanik graduated from Harvard with honors in 2006. Soon after that, she went to work for President Bush in his domestic policy council and chief of staff's offices from 2006 to 2009. Stefanik later worked for Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, as director of debate preparation during his run for vice president in 2012. Ryan and his presidential running mate, Mitt Romney, have both endorsed her for Congress. Most recently, she was the policy director for the Republican National Convention platform in 2012. In 2013 she moved to Willsboro, where her parents have owned a summer home nearly her entire life.
Stefanik said she stands by her experience at Harvard and the articles she wrote in the Crimson.
"I'm proud of my past," she said. "I think it shows my principles from a young age. I have the record for fighting for my conservative beliefs and having the courage to do it on the editorial pages in college."