This 25-Year-Old Running For Congress Is Defying Stereotypes In A Major Way
There are any number of unique characteristics I could use to introduce Rebekah Bydlak.
Bydlak is 25 years old. But on paper, she's unlike many of my friends around our age.
For one, she's married. For another, she was home-schooled.
Bydlak is running to join the House of Representatives for Florida's First Congressional District. If she wins, she'll be the first woman ever elected to that position.
She is also indirectly competing with fellow 25-year-old Erin Schrode to become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. She's one of many Millennials running for office around the country this year. Although Bydlak and Schrode share this common goal, they are doing it in diametrically opposed ways, on opposite sides of the country.
Schrode is out in California, while Bydlak is running in her home district of northwest Florida. And while Schrode is a liberal Democrat, Bydlak is a small government Republican.
This is another way in which Bydlak differs from most 20-somethings I know up here in liberal New York City. Bydlak is proudly conservative.
Bydlak's campaign is focused on reducing government spending (along with decreasing the government more generally). Before campaigning, she was a taxpayer advocate working with the Coalition to Reduce Spending, which was founded by her husband.
She believes that because she worked for reform as a citizen – rather than a member of the government – she is a "breath of fresh air to politics as usual."
I'm a political outsider, so there'll be a lot of talk about fighting Washington... but I'm the only one who's worked on these issues.
When the government gets too big, she told me, it can't properly take care of its people. It's this idea that drives her campaign. For instance, she also supports reforming the VA and how it cares for veterans, in order to make it more efficient.
This belief that a big government isn't helpful stems, in part, from her education. Bydlak was home-schooled until she went to college. She said,
Education freedom is very personal to me. When the federal government gets involved, I grew up knowing they weren't necessarily your friend.
This is why she doesn't support overarching systems like the Common Core.
Following the Republican platform, Bydlak supports the right to bear arms. She is a gun owner herself.
I spoke to her after the Orlando shooting – which happened in the state in which she's running – and asked if that changed how she views gun laws. She said that the shooting "made me even more convinced that we have to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens" to own guns to protect themselves.
Bydlak acknowledges that her political standpoint is different from that of many others in my generation. She said that people tend to assume she's a liberal Democrat: "The stereotype exists." When people make this assumption, she just lets her work speak for itself.
Bydlak says that conservatives need to do a better job at reaching out to the younger generation.
We need to start reaching out more aggressively to try and reach those culture wars for smaller government.
But even though more young people can be reached, there are already many who agree with her political beliefs. They're just not as widely recognized as, say, the young Bernie Sanders supporters. Bydlak said,
Young people can be the best advocates for a smaller government. We're not all necessarily feeling the Bern.
Bydlak is actually running against several other Millennials for the Congressional seat, but she believes she stands out as a "strong outsider fiscal conservative."
Her district is overwhelmingly Republican, so she's definitely boosted with that. But she's running against other Republicans as well. However, she thinks her strong small government stances set her apart from the other candidates.
I want to make sure the right kind of Republican is successful.
In addition, she's making a pretty good case for herself among the other candidates. She's raised over $100,000 from 220 donors in the first six weeks of her campaign, which is an admirable haul. She hopes that this helped to prove her legitimacy as such a young candidate.
People may be skeptical of a Millennial candidate, but I think I showed that that skepticism may not be warranted in my case.
Bydlak is a confident, dedicated candidate who stands behind what she believes. She told me she ran because she's not the kind of person who sits back and waits for someone to say it's her turn: She goes for it.
I know I can do a good job, and I want to make sure the best person takes the Republican nomination on August 30.
Her district will be voting in their primary on August 30, when she'll find out if she's managed to convince voters that she's the one to bet on.