Politics Q&A: Meet Lisa Stickan of the Young Republicans

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The Ohio activist talks swing state politics, what it means to be part of the GOP, and whether or not she's a member of the establishment.

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After graduating from John Carroll University in 1998, Lisa Stickan of Cleveland, Ohio, started law school and joined the local chapter of the Young Republicans. In subsequent years, as she followed in her father's footsteps and became a prosecutor, she rose in that organization, and is now Chair of the Young Republican National Federation, America's oldest political youth organization.

Ask her about politics and her inclination isn't to talk about ideology or policy details -- for her, politics means going door-to-door on behalf of a candidate she believes in, serving on her City Council, dropping off campaign literature, and participating in the regional roundtables and meetings that shape the future of the GOP. We talked about her involvement in politics, her assessment of what younger Republicans care about, the GOP establishment, and Ohio as a swing state.

What follows is an edited transcript.

At what age did you first identify as a Republican?

I was probably between 10 and 12. My mother got involved in the community, and instilled in me a desire to do the same. We met some great candidates and wound up dropping literature for them. And then I came to realize that, with my values and beliefs, I identified with the Republican Party. When you talk to people who are really into politics there's that love of meeting people, discussing issues -- if there's a candidate you really love, promoting them by getting literature out and knocking on doors. I always really enjoyed that sort of activity. I like to meet people.

Do you still go door to door?

I do. I love it. I ran myself for City Council, and I found that in my own campaign nothing is a substitute for knocking on doors. Part of what you would do is an introduction. Who I am, what I do professionally, and especially what I have to bring to the table when it comes to the position I seek. I have a history of working in government. I'm a former county prosecutor. When you serve in government, in that capacity -- that and my interest in politics have exposed me to just how important governmental decisions are. City Council is really the first step, it's the day to day maintenance of someone's life, it's the regular service people sometimes takes for granted that makes life easier. Is your garbage getting picked up on time? Are the roads plowed?

Those things are so important that you want to make sure regular maintenance is made. For someone like myself, starting out in the political world, I think it's a good step to really learn the fundamentals of government on the other side of things. It's one thing to be a prosecutor. It's another thing to actually run a city and help constituents. I've learned so much about the budget, different expenditures. And when I went door to door, I got a good feel for the neighborhood. The biggest issue for people on a given street. It gives you a good pulse on what's going on in the area.

What's your best experience going door to door?

Going to the door of someone I might have helped, which happened when I ran to be reelected to the city council. You get these calls, they have a complaint, you take steps to address it, and you don't really hear anything. But when you meet that person and see that you helped them, you did right by them, that's a good feeling. I haven't really had a horrible experience. I don't tend to get into a lot of arguments. You're at someone else's door, so your role isn't really to argue with them, it's to get them information. At least that's my philosophy. It's to ask them for their support. I don't think you're helping your cause if you're trying to argue ideology at someone's doorstep. It's more a matter of, "We'd love your support," and the ability to answer any questions they have.

Do you identify as a conservative as well as a Republican?

Yes.

When you started to shape your own political opinions, what made you think the Republican Party and conservatism were right for you?

Growing up and meeting candidates, it wasn't even necessarily the most conservative candidate, it was these are good people who have the right temperament or personality or beliefs, and bring some good talent to the table. That is why I got involved. It was candidate specific. I grew up in the Midwest as the daughter of a prosecutor. I'm a prosecutor. And I'm a Catholic. So there are those identifiers for me in terms of the conservative principles. But especially with the economy being what it is today there's more of a shift back to fiscal conservatism that we hear so much about in the Republican Party right now. And sitting on a city council, seeing the importance of guarding the taxpayer dollars, and how precious it is, how entrusted you are as an elected official - that affirms my belief that as an elected official and as a conservative, I do think fiscal conservatism and not spending beyond our means is one of the most important components of government right now. And that's really a strong belief I have.

What caused you to join the Young Republicans?

I first got involved in the Greater Cleveland Young Republicans when I was in law school. I met someone named Josh Mandel, our state treasurer, who is now running for US Senate. I mention him because we have members like that who got involved at a young age. The group serves many functions. As soon as you get involved at the national level you really have a nice network of peers, people around the country who you can discuss different ideas with or even just call friends. You can also get those boots on the ground, get out there, knock on doors, boost candidates, help them get elected. You can really have an impact. And learning first hand about these campaigns, how they function, what it takes to run a campaign. It comes in handy when you decide, I'm going to run for city council or judge or state representative one day.

Is part of the mission outreach to young people? Getting more young people to identify as Republicans?

Yes. A lot of our membership is young people post college who, as they establish their careers, are looking to get involved and learn more. What does it mean to be a Republican? Who are the candidates out there? Part of our job is to provide that information.

What does it mean to be a Republican?

I think generally speaking we talk about fiscal conservatism. If you're asking, what does it mean to be a Republican for these younger voters, what issue is driving them the most, I'd say that a lot of our membership is post-college, they're nervous about their future. They're having a hard time getting jobs. They're struggling, trying to establish their career path, find work, buy a home, start a family. These are obviously critical stages in one's life. Being that there's a lot of turmoil in the economy, it's created a lot of angst. There have been so many surveys about how people are delayed in making major decisions. Buying a house. Starting a family. Because they're worried, and they want to make sure. So I think to be a Republican means to worry about the future of the country, our economic future. To not incur so much debt. The debt we've been incurring over the last couple years is alarming to most of our membership. It's the kind of thing where it's easy money today, but the bill is going to come due tomorrow, and nobody wants their future saddled with these grim economic prospects.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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