Ep. 51 Haley Stevens, MI-11

NICIE PANETTA: Greetings and welcome to another edition of The Midpod: The Midterms Podcast. I'm Nicie Panetta with Heather Atwood. In this episode we bring you our interview with candidate Haley Stevens in Michigan's 11th Congressional District. We met Stevens early in our journey, and she was featured in episode four of The MidPod. In early August this year, she won the Democratic primary in this suburban district west and north of Detroit. As a reminder, this is an open seat currently held by wealthy Republican Dave Trott who is retiring. In November, Stevens will be facing off against Lena Epstein. Epstein is also wealthy, thanks to a family business. She has fully embraced President Trump and has often pictured with guns, trucks, and flags. Epstein does not actually live in this district which could become an issue in the campaign as well. Now this is a tight race, rated tossup by Cook Political Report. But in one promising sign, Democratic voters outnumber GOP voters in the primary by 51 percent to 49 percent. Without a doubt, key issues in this race will be manufacturing and trade policy as well as healthcare. With that, here's your chance to get to know Haley Stevens. When we interviewed her, we had just been learning about the severe gerrymandering in the state of Michigan. So we started with that topic.

HEATHER ATWOOD: What does this shape look like to you?

HALEY STEVENS: Oh, it, well, it to me, it looks like a claw.

NICIE: [Laughs] That's great. And what is it, actually?

STEVENS: And it is actually Michigan's 11th District.

HEATHER: So there's kind of some open, there's some different weird cutouts and things, aren't there?

STEVENS: There's, there's the, what I call the Bermuda Triangle of the 11th District which is, are you standing in the 11th District, the 9th District or the 14th?

HEATHER: So can we all take a little moment here and say, "Thank you, Haley Stevens, that there are, there is still Ford Motors, GM and Chrysler?" OK, can we, can we say a little thank you to you?

STEVENS: Thank you, thank you.

HEATHER: Right, right, so let's go to that! You know, you have quite, not only did you grow up here, but there are a lot of people who could be saying thank you to you.

STEVENS: Yeah that was 2008. Remember what was happening in the financial services industry and we remember what was happening to our auto, automakers which is point blank their balance sheets were off and they were running out of money. And it was a word that nobody wanted to say, but it was hovering in the air which was "bankruptcy." And it was, "Are we going to let GM and Chrysler liquidate?" Ford had sort of organized their balance sheets a little bit earlier.

NICIE: They had borrowed...

STEVENS: They had borrowed that money earlier. They had, they had kind of streamlined, and so the question became well what do we do? Do we let these large OEMs, original equipment manufacturers, that are headquartered in the auto capital of America right here in the heart of the industrial Midwest, you know, the, that great reminder that that's what Michigan led. Was the innovation economy of the 20th, 20th century.

NICIE: And where were you?

STEVENS: And so where was I? I had just finished up the 2008 presidential cycle. I as a kid from Michigan that had worked for the Michigan Democratic Party in 2006 steering the midterm elections. Then, jumped on the presidential campaigns first for, for then-Senator Hillary Clinton, was working in her policy shop, doing briefing material, and then got asked to work on the Obama campaign doing briefing and policy work there, and we won. And it was a really historic election, an exciting time. And I got asked to work on the, the transition. So that, that opportunity from when you win the election and you have three months to kind of get into the White House and get everything organized and, you know the president had a, a really nice operation and, and place, a nice transition team, they were prepared if in the, in the ex, ex, exciting event and he won that we would be organized and ready to go. At the same time though, the country was in the middle of this financial crisis that sort of that hit in September, and so what everyone was thinking, "What am I gonna do in the administration?" I, Haley Stevens as a person from Michigan. All I could think about was my hometown. All I could think about what was happening here, because the rumbling here on the economic front had started a couple years earlier.

STEVENS: Here I'm standing at the forefront of federal government, but I want to represent Michigan. I want to represent my family and friends and, and, and and and start to address these challenges and I was reading everything I could about auto because you're not from Michigan and you don't work in Michigan politics without having worked in auto and having worked with the United Auto Workers and kind of growing up with the CEOs of the Big Three companies is on the front page of the news every day, or, you know, more than half the people who I went to high school with having worked in auto, my uncle have worked for Chrysler, my stepfather having worked for Chrysler, my grandfather having worked for Ford. And so I, I did what you do in a big moment which is I put up my hand, and I met Steve Rattner who was going to be in charge of the auto rescue, and it was like many things in life. A quick introduction, a, a, a quick minute to make an impression, and I got asked to serve as Steve's Chief of Staff. And we were off to the races, so to speak.

STEVENS: And Steve cataloged that in a, a book that he wrote that is still read by many people, it's a very real and firsthand account that explains what was taking place and that is most readily answered by what GM and Chrysler were facing, but what everyone else was saying, which was, "If GM and Chrysler liquidate, I, Ford, will also like, likely liquidate. I, Toyota, will also liquidate. The supply chain will, will crumble. And we will face something...that... would be catastrophic on an economic front that would take a generation to come out of." So how do you answer that? How do you, how do you begin to put together a solution in just a short window of time? In a new presidency, and with a Congress and a Senate that has a lot of questions and represents a lot of people. And it was the leadership that President Obama showed and it was the leadership and the wisdom of the people like Steve Rattner, like Ron Bloom who came out of the U.S. Steelworkers and had a great business mind as well as a great understanding of labor. And it was the deal of the century.

HEATHER: Something we've been thinking about a lot when we've been out of here...how do you square that...very clear example of government stepping in and doing something really good for people with the extraordinary anti-government sentiment that we've been confronted with recently, since I guess really the Tea Party movement got rolling?

STEVENS: One of the things is, is when we were working on the U.S. auto rescue, Ron Bloom in particular used to always say, "We're, we're not looking to, to run the companies. We're not looking to take over the day-to-day management of the companies." Larry Summers as well who was really at the helm of the president's National Economic Council and as you know one of the, the great minds of, of, of, of economics in, in our country, really set the tone that we don't want to have a government that is running private industry, but yet we have a role for government. It's where it hangs on the end yet. I've worked in this, this role. I worked with the Economic Development Administration and where the Economic Development Administration comes in as an investment partner is the "if not bought for". So you have industry, maybe you even have local government involved and you need just a little bit extra of a gap filled. It could be a rail spur because you need to get your product off of the shop floor onto the truck bed, but you're missing you know that piece of infrastructure or you need that bricks and mortar investment, and I can't tell you how many partners I worked with different regions, particularly here in Michigan, we, we did this with a supply base, right? How do you help the supply base diversify when they've been selling into automotive, but if automotive takes a hit, well isn't there arrow, isn't there other industry sectors that you can sell into? And so that role of the government as a strategic partner is really what we need to retell, and what I really see as the new progressive agenda, the new voices that are stepping up today here in 2017, looking to run for office in 2018 and send a new message into the Capitol that the government can be a strategic partner.

STEVENS: I will also be a Democrat and I, I very much am a Democrat talking about the government as an efficient partner, as a strategic partner because what you get on the other side of the aisle, where this frustration sometimes comes from, right, is that you're talking out of one side of your mouth saying, "We care about manufacturing!" So that economic development administration that I talked about that has really helped a lot of regions in terms of their manufacturing growth and in terms of their economic development, that....agency, that for every one dollar seven jobs are created or retained, is on the chopping block in the Trump budget. In the Republican budget. And so when you start to take a look at these things for what they really are, we can rewrite a new message and a new dialogue and show people outcomes. I'm focused on return on investment. I, I constantly say I'm a woman in manufacturing running for Congress and I'm so excited to say that because my my my district is overwhelmingly a manufacturing-based district.

HEATHER: And, and talk a little bit about that childhood here in the district and, where, where the inspiration really comes from for public service.

STEVENS: The first time I could run for something in, in middle school I put my hand up to do it, and I had that public service gene in my bones. So growing up I was born in Rochester Hills, Michigan at Crittenton Hospital. And Rochester Hills, it when my parents moved there in the 70s, it was slightly more rural and now it's it's ex-burban in a way. It's the suburbs outside of the suburbs from Detroit. And then we, we moved to Birmingham when I was in middle school and, and Birmingham, Michigan is a town of about 20,000. It's got great schools. You couldn't imagine a better place to grow up. And the best of the economy. So when I was growing up in the 90s and the early 2000s even, this was the place to live in America. People came from all over to work for automotive, it's even an international destination and, where we struggle today is that question of, "Where are people located?" And, "How do people still feel connected to this district?" Is this really laying the foundation for people to come and raise a family? So you get the boomerangs who come back and do that and then you get the people who are attracted to living in Chicago, and all you have to do is say, "75 percent of the country's research and development in autonomous vehicles is headquartered here." That's what I want to lead on. That's what I want to do from the United States Capital.

HEATHER: We have to ask you about that because...

STEVENS: Of course!

HEATHER: There is...potentially a, a somewhat existential threat to Detroit posed by Tesla.

STEVENS: My thought about Tesla is...bring it on. Bring it on in the sense of... let's look at partnerships. Let's look at opportunities. I pay attention to what the CEO of Tesla is saying, Elon Musk, from a place of a little bit of skepticism, particularly along the lines of his claim that "No one is going to work anymore" or "We are gonna put everybody out of work." I fundamentally do not accept that notion, in part because of where I come from, because our economy is human-driven and human-run. And so while it may be advantageous for a CEO to say, "Well, we can put people out of work or we can accept that as a policy maker." Again I look at that role of where industry and government can come together for outcomes and I specifically look at this from the standpoint of autonomous vehicles in that it will be the grand bargain of the quarter 21st century mark. That is something I want to lead on. And so the grand bargain really becomes the insurance market. Because that needs to get rewritten, it becomes the original equipment manufacturers. It frankly becomes a lot of infrastructure leaders and then it becomes Labor sitting down together and thinking about, "How do we, as Michigan, as the grandfather of the industrial Midwest, lead again, in terms of a mid-21st century workforce that's supplying and filling good jobs?" I certainly cannot fully imagine a world where we accept putting semi trucks without people at all involved down our thousands of miles of highway and just being okay with it.

HEATHER: So I imagine that industrial policy would be one area where you'd be particularly focused as a member of Congress, any, any other particular policy area where you hope to have an impact?

STEVENS: One of the other areas I've I've started to take a look at that I think Congress could do a better job on is in our health sciences, in particular I'm looking at medical advancements. Joe Biden, Vice President Joe Biden's moonshot on cancer...it is unacceptable...what is happening to public health when one in two men will get diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime and one in three men, or three women will get diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Looking at that in Michigan that's tens and tens of thousands of people. The, the mortality rate is unacceptable but yet...it is a status quo. We need leaders in Congress to be focused on outcomes.

NICIE: So I have a sort of an emotional question....because I'm so fascinated with 2008 and what happened in this community. You know nothing we've not experienced anything like that in Massachusetts where an entire community so linked to one industry was watching the drive closer to the cliff. So that must have been an incredibly emotional time. And what is the community memory of that? When you're out in the community talking to people, do people recognize that you really were there at that moment and this was a, or, or is there a communal sort of...people forget things very quickly. How, how does that play out in this community right now?

STEVENS: I, I have people come up to me all the time and it takes just a couple of exchanges for tears to come out because they remember sitting at their desk and watching people get tapped on the shoulder. Or they wondered this you know they they were bearing the stress of what their, their, their future employment was going to be, if they were gonna be able to send their kid to college because if they were going to be out of a job or getting laid off and then having to be out of work or relocate. I've talked to some people whose, you know, relatives had to leave the state because the opportunities weren't here or you lost your job and then you lost your house and it was it was a real challenge, and so there is absolutely an emotion still connected to that and it's in, in many ways a it can be turned into a positive as part of my campaign because it really is an example of government at its best. And people don't forget what happened. There's certainly a lot of gratitude and there's also certainly a little bit of uncertainty around the leadership in place today and the decisions that are being made that are moving further and further from the family values, from the economy, from access to health care. Why do we continue to fight on the basics which is it's costing too much for people. How about that? It doesn't matter what color you are or what party affiliation you are. Health care costs too much for people today. Prescription drug costs are out of control. That's what we should be focused on. That's the bipartisan solution.

NICIE: Any thoughts on Representative Trott and his term of office so far, his time here so far?

STEVENS: I think that Representative Trott has...has been a little absent in, in, in places where people have needed him. One of the things that happened in November is that we had an election and a result that disappointed a lot of people and scared a lot of people. And it's called a lot of people to action. And what I mean by that is we had the Women's March which was in, in many respects a a kind of silver lining and a, you know, a ringing of the bell around a new moment in our country that was gonna be focused and still cultivating our our progressive values. But it was also saying, "We don't like what's come out of November and we, we want to show that we're staying together and that we're still strong but yet...people like Representative Trott have just played laissez-faire. They've stayed disconnected to the questions that people ask.

STEVENS: I, I, I speak to people every day who reach out to his office and don't get responses and they're nervous. They're wondering about very basic things, they're not here to play political games. These are working parents who are wondering about the cost of college, they're wondering about their access to health care. They want to know what's gonna happen. And what has happened? You have a, have an elected official who voted to repeal the health care bill that was passed that's benefited a lot of people, and then went on to say, "Well it wasn't a very good bill." And that disappointed people. That wasn't a leadership moment. That wasn't taking the tough choice because it would have been what's right and it was followed up by what is the worst of any elected official which is a non-response, a non-engagement. You put up your hand to lead because you are there to serve people and you are engaging in a trust with a population, with your constituents.

NICIE: Representative Trott got 200,000 votes in the general in '16...what do you think he can hold there and what would be your roadmap to 205 or 210 or?

STEVENS: Right, the votes are there. You have to have the the right candidate and the right operation in play to get people out to vote. And it's also gonna be attached to a message, and my message today is squarely focused on people and squarely focused on community. And I believe if people see a representative who truly wants to work and advocate for them and their families and our future, they'll come out. And, and, and you've got to meet people where they're at. You've got to be able to tell a story that that encourages and inspires people and I believe when you look at the numbers and where we need to be we can be there in November.

NICIE: That's Haley Stevens, Democrat running for Congress in Michigan's 11th Congressional District. You can learn more at haleystevensforcongress.com. Now if you're a Michigan voter one last thing, we want to make sure you know that there will be a ballot question in November designed to address the partisan gerrymandering we talked about with Haley Stevens. A grassroots citizens group called Voters Not Politicians has a proposal to create a nonpartisan citizens commission to draw fair election maps in Michigan. This group gathered the many thousands of signatures needed and fought off a Republican backed court challenge. So we urge you to study the proposal carefully and consider voting for it. Similar efforts have had good success in states like Iowa and California. So that's it for now. Tune in next Tuesday for an interview with Michele Swers of Georgetown University. A political scientist, Swers has been studying women in Congress for decades. A recent focus is Republican women in Congress, and the challenges that they face both in getting elected and in achieving legislative success. There's fascinating history here, and implications for a post-Trump, perhaps healthier future for the GOP. Thanks for listening and see you next week.

Eunice Panetta