After a short political career working on Republican campaigns, 21-year-old Megan Olson had a breakout moment in December on "Fox & Friends," where she launched a Minnesota House campaign that would make her the youngest lawmaker in the Legislature.
In an election year when many of her liberal peers are mobilizing around gun safety, climate change and defeating President Donald Trump, Olson knows she is playing against type by running in a suburban Dakota County district as an ardent supporter of the president.
Her long-term mission might be to rejuvenate a Republican Party that, according to polls, skews much older than her.
"I think Republicans are starting to see that in order for us to win and in order for us to flip states like Minnesota red, we need to start engaging the youth, and changing the narrative that 'the youth are all Bernie Sanders supporters, and they're all socialists,' " she said in a March campaign rollout on Facebook Live.
Short term, with no GOP primary opponent in her Lakeville-Apple Valley House district, her mission is to unseat DFL incumbent Robert Bierman, a business owner who won the seat in 2018 with 55% of the vote.
A recent University of Minnesota graduate, Olson is running as a Christian conservative, sharing many of the views heard on daytime talk radio aimed at an older generation of listeners, but delivered with a disarming smile and easy laugh. Her Facebook Live rollout showed her fumbling good-naturedly with her camera and riffing on issues while her sister adjusted the background props in her bedroom.
She speaks candidly about stereotypes that persist about youth who some say don't care, or who only vote for progressive issues. In an interview, she said she's passionate about small business, health care and education. Her top legislative priority: instituting "fiscal responsibility" courses to teach high school students about credit, mortgages and general financial literacy.
Growing up in an age of school shootings and marches for gun control, Olson says another of her priorities would be passing a state constitutional amendment to protect gun rights. She's against expanding background checks on private gun sales, taking an absolutist view on the Second Amendment: "That means no infringement," she says.
She agrees with many in her age group about protecting the environment but derides some of the political rhetoric behind the proposed Green New Deal as "World is ending stuff — really crazy." She opposes mandates for carbon-free energy to ameliorate the "climate crisis," which she puts in air quotes. Where there's a problem, she believes in free market solutions.
She opposes abortion and assisted suicide. "Further widespread abortion rights need to just be kicked in the butt and nixed," she said on Facebook Live.
She also is running to protect the bucolic, suburban character of her community, where she opposes the expansion of public transit, bike lanes and refugee resettlement, which she sees as too costly. "We're creating a little city out of Apple Valley when Apple Valley is really a suburb," she told supporters.
Olson, who studied history and political science in college, said she learned early in life that politics is not only local, but personal.
She is the youngest of three sisters, her father a business owner and her mother a stay-at-home mom who returned to work so her family could get affordable health insurance.
"I have an older sister with a really severe heart condition. We needed health care insurance and we couldn't afford it. My mom decided, you know, it's just time for me to go back to work. She went back just to get health care," Olson said. "That was kind of the age where I really realized the impact public policy can have on people's lives."
Despite her sister's health struggles, Olson backs the Trump administration's efforts to dismantle the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. She said it did not work for her family, as an ACA-compliant health plan would be too expensive for her self-employed father.
Olson credits her four years working in a coffee shop with helping her develop the skills and political connections she needed to mount a legislative campaign. "That's how a lot of opportunities and things started for me, from working at Caribou," she said.
But it was her appearance on Fox last December that really put her on the political map. She had written for conservative news sites Alpha News and Campus Reform, which helped her make it on national TV during a segment about students serving their communities.
"They took it and ran with it. It was really cool to be able to be in the satellite studio in Minneapolis," she said.
Olson is hardly the only young Republican running for a state legislative seat in Minnesota. Minnesota GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan pointed to other prospects such as Thomas Manninen and older candidates like Edwin Hahn and Bjorn Olson. "We've got quite a few young people running that have such incredible and inspiring stories and backgrounds," Carnahan said. "They may not have had a chance to appear on Fox News or whatnot at this point, for whatever reason."
While Olson would be the state's youngest lawmaker now, she would not be the youngest ever. If elected this year, she would be slightly older than Thaddeus "Tad" Jude was when he first took a House seat in 1973, having just turned 21.
But Olson is happy to point out the age contrast with Bierman, the 59-year-old DFL incumbent.
"The Democrats like to say 'we're the party of young people, we're the party of minorities and women and all this stuff,' and to see the contrast of candidates now ... we can work to change this narrative that the Democrats have been crafting," she said.
Bierman said via e-mail that he wishes well to all who put themselves into the public eye to serve their community. "I believe the voters of District 57A will have a clear choice on the direction they wish our community and state to take this election," he said.