New GOP leader Rep. Elise Stefanik has a major connection to Lawrence: her husband
photo by: Alex Brandon/AP
Say what you will about Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who on Friday was elected to the No. 3 GOP leadership position amid the never-ending political debate about Republican loyalty to Donald Trump.
In a Democratic stronghold like Lawrence, you can imagine what most of those comments are regarding the young Republican from New York who has become a new national voice for Trumpism. Say what’s on your mind. That’s politics.
But know that you might actually run into Stefanik at Allen Fieldhouse, or perhaps more likely at a downtown Lawrence bookstore.
Stefanik has a strong Lawrence connection: her husband.
Stefanik is married to Matt Manda, who is the son of longtime Lawrence residents Kathy and Ed Manda. Ed Manda has been a dentist in Lawrence for decades.
“Matt has taken her to the fieldhouse and to games,” Kathy Manda said. “And she loves downtown Lawrence. She always comes back with bags from shopping, and a lot of them are books. She loves books and reading.”
Manda said the couple usually made it back to Lawrence once or twice a year. The Lawrence Mandas go back East to see their son and daughter-in-law a few times a year, as well.
Now, of course, all they have to do is turn on the TV to see their daughter-in-law. Stefanik is all over the news, as she is center stage in the latest political soap opera. On Friday, her fellow Republicans in Congress elected her as chair of the House Republican Caucus, the No. 3 leadership position in Republican ranks. She replaced Rep. Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, who was forced out of the position, in part, because of her very vocal criticism of Trump and anyone who promotes “The Big Lie” that Joe Biden did not legitimately win the last presidential election.
The Mandas have grown used to their daughter-in-law making news, though. In fact, they didn’t have to wait until the marriage to see that. When Matt and Stefanik began dating in 2012, she wasn’t a congresswoman. Instead she was merely someone who worked near the office of Matt, who had gone to D.C. to be a staff member for then Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Kansas Republican.
By the time the couple married in 2017, Stefanik had become the youngest woman elected to Congress. Stefanik was elected in 2014, and at that time was its youngest-ever female member at 30 years old.
It is not every day that you get to watch your son’s girlfriend run for Congress. What did the Mandas think of it all?
“It was very exciting,” Kathy said. “What struck me is she has a passion. Just like any other parent meeting the significant other of their child, you learn their interests, and their passions come across. She does love government, policy and making things work … We thought this sounds like what she is meant to do.”
It maybe isn’t what she’s always thought of doing, though. Kathy — as mother-in-laws are entitled to do — shared one story she learned about her daughter-in law. It goes back to Stefanik’s love of reading. She told Kathy that as a young girl she dreamed of being a librarian, and made her younger brother, also named Matt, share in that dream.
“She would make him sit there and ask him ‘Matty, what books would you like to check out today?” Kathy shared. But it sounds like Stefanik was a better librarian than Matty was a patron. “He wasn’t too enthusiastic about it,” Kathy said.
It is memories like those that are a lot more common around the Manda dinner table than talk of policy or politics when Stefanik is back in town, Kathy said.
“When she comes here, we talk a lot about family and fun and travel,” Kathy said. “We don’t talk about politics all the time.”
So, don’t ask Kathy for the inside scoop about how Stefanik went from being a newish member of Congress to one of the GOP’s top leadership positions.
“I don’t know how all that works,” she said.
Speaking of knowing, how many people in Lawrence know of Stefanik’s connection to our town? It is not something the layperson hears much about around town, but it certainly hasn’t been a secret either. Kathy said numerous friends and acquaintances in Lawrence — a town that voted against Trump by an almost 70% to 30% margin — know that Stefanik is their daughter in-law. And if they have watched a lick of cable news in the last month, they have heard plenty about the role she is playing in the future of the Republican Party, elections and democracy.
But Kathy said she can honestly say she’s never had a Lawrence resident be rude to her about Stefanik. Kathy said she’s “not naive,” but said “hopefully that doesn’t change.”
That’s not to say, however, no one has ever expressed a contrary opinion.
“It is personal to me because it is my daughter-in-law, but that is politics,” Kathy said. “People express their ideas. Everybody’s ideas are different from everybody else’s. I’ve had the experience that my friends and acquaintances have been able to share their ideas or opinions in a polite exchange. I have appreciated that a lot. It is a good thing that we don’t all agree 100% because that is how we gather ideas, listen and move forward.”