Candidate Seeks to Be Youngest Woman Elected to Congress

In her bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Marin County resident Erin Schrode has a powerful weapon on her side: youth.

“I better understand the pulse of where society is going than he does,” Schrode declared in an interview last week. “I’m 30 years younger than he is. I’m living and breathing reality and ready to act in the present.”

Schrode, who passed through Garberville during a day of campaigning last Wednesday, just turned 25 in April. What that means is that if she does somehow manage to knock off the 52-year-old Huffman, she would become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. The current titleholder in that regard is New York Republican Elise Stefanik, who was elected to the House in 2014 at age 30.

“For me, it’s about representative democracy,” Schrode said, referring to her potentially groundbreaking candidacy. “The U.S. [population] is 51 percent female, and 35 percent of the population male and female is under 30. And yet there has never been a woman under 30 elected to national office.”

That Schrode feels it is her generation’s time to start picking up the reins of political power comes through loud and clear. One reason has to do with the apparent fact that when it comes to political leadership, females in her age group are less willing to take a back seat to males than females in previous generations.

“I believe progressive female voices result in better policy,” she stated flatly.

But she went on to assert that young people in general, male or female, are “better equipped to lead” — in large part because as children of the digital revolution, they are more tech-savvy than their elders.

“Entire industries are disappearing. My generation is uniquely equipped to lead the transition into a changing economy,” she said.

Schrode’s website describes her as a “citizen activist, community organizer and vocal advocate for environmental action, social justice, public health and responsible consumption.”

To a surprising extent considering her age, Schrode has walked the talk. Back in 2005, when she was a teenager, she became aware that cancer rates, in particular breast cancer rates, were on the rise.

As she looked into the matter, she grew concerned that the increase had to do not with some obvious cause, such as tainted water supplies, but with chronic, low-level exposures to toxins in everything from personal care products to clothing.

“It didn’t make sense to me that [there were] carcinogens in the products I was using. I assumed the government was looking out for my health and well-being,” Schrode recalled.

Rather than despairing, or simply shrugging her shoulders, Schrode took action, helping to co-found a nonprofit organization called Turning Green that focused on education and advocacy.

She displayed a similar activist tendency in the wake of the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Arriving two months afterward to volunteer at Project Medishare, a field hospital in Port-au-Prince, she became aware that there was a need for school supplies.

So she launched a project called The Schoolbag which involved raising funds back in the U.S. to purchase school supplies that were later distributed to Haitian children.

While she found the undertaking satisfying, her experience in Haiti was also somewhat sobering. “I saw what was wrong with international aid and development. Everyone was duplicating their efforts.”

The lack of organization resulted in a situation in which “organizations were coming in to pursue what they thought was right without thinking about the sustainability of the [overall relief] effort.”

A graduate of New York University — she got a Bachelor of Arts degree in social and cultural analysis in 2013 — Schrode has also spent time abroad in West Africa and in Greece.

As for Huffman, Schrode said she respected the work he did as an environmental attorney before becoming a politician. “Jared Huffman and I would likely vote similar on environmental issues,” she acknowledged.

But Schrode said that as a member of the House she would place much more emphasis than Huffman has on issues having to do with women’s rights and gender equity. “Women’s rights and gender equity are absolutely pivotal to our campaign,” she said.

Schrode has had difficulty getting acknowledgment, much less money or statements of support, from politicians and organizations in the sprawling 2nd Congressional District, which stretches along the North Coast from the Golden Gate to the Oregon border.

“No elected officials will meet with me. No organizations will endorse me. No one wants to piss off Jared Huffman,” she lamented. “There are barriers in place. That’s what it means to go up against the Democratic establishment.”

Nonetheless, Schrode has managed to raise in the neighborhood of $40,000 for her campaign, mostly through small donations. And along with idealism and energy, she exudes determination. After all, she doesn’t need to beat Huffman in the upcoming primary on June 7. She just needs to come in second in order to have another shot at him come November.

“Someone said: ‘How are you supposed to get a chance?’ I said: ‘We’ll keep on building our campaign.’ We won’t back down. We won’t stop. We’ll push people to have a dialogue.”