Town Talk | New GOP Leader Elise Stefanik’s Representative Has Major Bond to Lawrence: Her Husband | News, Sports, Jobs
photo by: Alex Brandon / AP
Say what you want about Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who was elected to the GOP’s No.3 leadership post on Friday amid endless political debate over Republican loyalty to Donald Trump.
In a Democratic stronghold like Lawrence, you can imagine what most of these comments are about the young New York Republican who has become a new national voice for Trumpism. Say what you think. It’s politics.
But be aware that you might meet Stefanik at Allen Fieldhouse, or maybe more likely at a bookstore in downtown Lawrence.
Stefanik has a strong bond with Lawrence: 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 took her to the field and to the games,” said Kathy Manda. “And she loves downtown Lawrence. She always comes back with grocery bags, and many of them are books. She loves books and reading.
Manda said the couple usually return to Lawrence once or twice a year. The Lawrence Mandas also return east to see their son and daughter-in-law several times a year.
Now of course all they have to do is turn on the TV to see their stepdaughter. Stefanik is all over the news because she is at the center of the latest political soap opera. Her Republican colleagues in Congress elected her chair of the Republican House Caucus, the third leadership position in the Republican ranks, on Friday. She replaced Rep. Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, who was forced to step down, in part because of her harsh criticism of Trump and all those promoting “The Big Lie” that Joe Biden did not legitimately lack. won the last presidential election.
However, the Mandas have become accustomed to their daughter-in-law making the news. In fact, they didn’t have to wait until marriage to see this. When Matt and Stefanik started dating in 2012, she was not a member of Congress. Instead, she was simply someone who worked near Matt’s office, who had gone to Washington to be a staff member for then-Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Republican from Kansas.
By the time the couple got married in 2017, Stefanik had become the youngest woman elected to Congress. Stefanik was elected in 2014, and at that time was her youngest female member at 30.
It’s not every day that you see your son’s girlfriend running for Congress. What did the Mandas think of all this?
“It was very exciting,” said Kathy. “What struck me is that she has a passion. Just like any other parent who meets half of their child, you learn their interests and passions are manifested. She loves government, politics and making things work… We thought that sounded like what she was supposed to do.
It might not be what she always thought about. Kathy – as mothers-in-law have the right to do – told a story she learned about her daughter-in-law. It goes back to Stefanik’s love for reading. She told Kathy that as a young girl she dreamed of being a librarian and involved her younger brother, also named Matt, in that dream.
“She would sit him there and ask him ‘Matty, what books would you like to see today?’ Kathy shared. But it seems Stefanik was a better librarian than Matty was a patron. “He wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it,” Kathy said.
It’s memories like the ones that are much more common around Manda’s dinner table than talking about politics or politics when Stefanik is back in town, Kathy said.
“When she comes here, we talk a lot about family, fun and travel,” Kathy said. “We don’t talk about politics all the time.”
So don’t ask Kathy how Stefanik went from being a new member of Congress to one of the GOP’s top leadership positions.
“I don’t know how it all works,” she said.
Speaking of which, how many people in Lawrence know of Stefanik’s connection to our city? It’s not something the layman hears a lot about in town, but it’s certainly not a secret either. Kathy said many friends and acquaintances in Lawrence – a town that voted against Trump by a margin of almost 70-30% – know Stefanik is their daughter-in-law. And if they took a peek at cable news last month, they’ve heard a lot about the role she plays in the future of the Republican Party, elections, and democracy.
But Kathy said she could honestly say that she had never seen a resident of Lawrence be rude to her about Stefanik. Kathy said she was “not naive” but said “I hope this won’t change”.
This does not mean, however, that no one has ever expressed a contrary opinion.
“It’s personal to me because it’s my daughter-in-law, but it’s politics,” Kathy said. “People express their ideas. Everyone’s ideas are different from those of others. I have had the experience that my friends and acquaintances were able to share their ideas or opinions in a polite exchange. I really appreciated that. It’s a good thing we don’t all agree 100%, because that’s how we collect ideas, listen and move forward. ”