Andrea LaFontaine: Young Leaders in Public Service

November 16, 2021 0:58:09
Kaltura Video

Join P3E for a discussion with Andrea LaFontaine, Executive Director for Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance. November, 2021.


0:00:07.2 Cindy: Hello everyone. I'm Cindy Bank, I'm the associate director of the Program in Practical Policy Engagement. And I'd like to recognize my colleague, Miriam [0:00:19.5] ____ who is on, as well as my colleague, Rusty Hills who is also on the call. And I appreciate you joining us we you may have a few other students joining us for this young leaders in public service. And I am going to... Before speaking too much, I'm just gonna turn it over to Andrea, our speaker, because I really want her to tell us about her journey and what she's been doing, and I've just met her and it's been a delight to meet you, and we're already planning of our conversation. And after Andrea's done talking about herself a little bit, Rusty has graciously offered to moderate the Q&A, so I'm hopefully we're gonna have this real informal, dialogue. So Andrea, thank you and welcome.

0:01:09.7 Andrea: Thank you, thanks for having me, Cindy, Rusty and Miriam. Great conversation before this, looking forward to digging in a little bit deeper. I will briefly run through my background, but I just ask if anyone... When we get to question and answer, please don't hold back, I'll be 100% honest about everything, 'cause the experience is something that I like to share and I think everybody can learn from, and if it encourages you to run for office even better.

0:01:35.8 Andrea: So my story is a little non-traditional, I guess you could say, in that it was 2010 was my first stab at running for office. I at the time was working on my master's degree, so I was 23 years old working on my master's degree, working at the diner that... I grew up in a very small town in Northern Macomb County and I worked at a family dinner for 10 plus years. So in between my master's and working part-time for a state senator, I was asking people if they want hash browns or American fries with their breakfast on the weekends. So I was trying to plan what my next step would be. My undergrad degree was in political science. My master's was public administration, but it was also when the economy was totally in the tank and it didn't look very promising here in Michigan, so I was looking at going elsewhere, and when I was assessing my resume, I realized the one area I fell short was campaign experience. So I'm like, "Alright, what can I do to put campaign experience on my resume?" So I was like, "Mom, I have this great idea. You should run for office. I should run your campaign and if you win, it would be great, but if you don't, I get the experience on the resume, we're good to go."

0:03:00.2 Andrea: So she's a township clerk in Richmond township, a small township of less than 4000 people. So I talked to her about this, and then her and my dad later came back a few hours later and they're like, "We think you should do it," and I'm like, "You might be a little out of your mind, I'm 23 years old still in school. How is this possibly gonna work?" But they're like, "Just give it a shot." So we went into it never really expecting to be successful, but also I think people underestimate us too, when they wrote stories about my election, I was referred to as a waitress, not the fact that I had in undergrad and was working on a master's and working part-time for a senator, it was the waitress turned legislator. But people underestimate how many people you talk to in a small town diner every day, so you really... You know what's going on in the community. You know what people care about. At the end of the day, I didn't want to leave Michigan, I love Michigan, it's been home for me forever.

0:04:00.3 Andrea: I wanted this place to be a place where I could raise a future family one day and find employment here myself, so I'm like, "Okay, we're gonna channel this into our campaign message." And for those of you that are familiar with 2010, there was a pretty big Republican wave that was in our favor, but I had to get through a primary first. In my primary election, I ran against three established men in the community that... I had grown up there my whole life, I hadn't recognized their names, they didn't sound familiar to me, but they had careers, they had the perfect little political family that goes on a postcard. So we went into it, we're like, "Okay, we'll just give it our all." I think our primary campaign budget was around $3000, I pulled up my campaign literature, which we designed ourselves in Microsoft Word and printed in black and white, because color printing... There was no way we could afford that. We had a backyard barbecue where I invited all of my customers, everyone from my church, anyone I knew growing up, and I think we charged maybe $5 a person or $10 for the whole family, and pitched them on this idea of me running for office.

0:05:14.4 Andrea: So it was August 3rd, 2010. And I won the primary election by 64 votes, which was... It was... And we didn't get these results until 2 o'clock in the morning, but I was remembering like, okay, we made it through a primary by the skins of our teeth, we're going up against a sitting incumbent again throughout the whole thing, never thinking we were going to win. So at that time, the person who lived in that seat or who currently had that seat was... She was a Democrat. She'd only been there for two years. She was a teacher, but I'm like, "Alright, we're gonna see... " She had a war chest of campaign funds, no doubt about that, and I did not have... I didn't have the resources to self-invest in my campaign, but I knew I could work really hard, that's one thing my parents taught me growing up, if you can outwork anyone, it is just as equal as having those financial resources, so we knocked doors nonstop every day, all day. And I remember back then and how things have changed, it was probably reflective of the times, but so many houses in foreclosure and people that weren't there, and when I'm following the walk list through the district, and that was eye-opening in itself, but I think doing all of the initial legwork, it wound up paying off 'cause on election night, we won.

0:06:39.7 Andrea: And what I find looking back on it, the most surreal, I remember, I feel like I fell asleep with the same smile I woke up with the next morning. My cheeks were sore and I'm like, "This is real." But you're elected at the beginning of November, your term doesn't start till January. I was still in school and I still had bills to pay. So I was back at the diner, so what was funny was people were like, "Didn't you just get elected?" And "Yeah, but I still have bills to pay. So yes, I'm here to take your order at least until January 1st, and then we'll go from there." So I went to the House of Representatives and my district was Northern Macomb County, and parts of St. Clair County. So this area over here, great district, love, it's not home to me anymore, I still...

[background conversation]

0:07:32.4 Andrea: I'm sorry, that would be my watch telling me where I'm at currently. Must have heard what I was talking about. Technology, just so smart. So I served three terms in the House of Representatives. I was term-limited when I was 29, and then those six years were incredible. There's really nothing I think that can prepare you for that experience, you learn a lot about yourself, you learn a lot about other people. You learn even more about how government works and sometimes how it doesn't work, which is what gives you that charge and fuels you to want to do better.

0:08:09.9 Andrea: I was fortunate enough to chair the Natural Resource Committee for four years, a lot of people don't know the story behind that, but I didn't request to chair a committee, I'm someone who I never volunteer myself to do something unless I feel fully competent and versed in every aspect of it. So I often need to be pushed in the pool, even those that I report to today, will often tell me, "You gotta jump, you gotta jump, sometimes you gotta take that leap and just go with it." So I was put in a position where a lot of my colleagues had requested that position and I hadn't, and I was put there for a reason by Speaker Bulger, and that set my career path to where it is today. So after leaving the legislature, I went to work for the Department of Natural Resources, so I worked for Director Keith Craig as technically a governor appointee...

0:09:05.5 Andrea: And that position you're, I think we're considered unclassified or classified, one of the two, where your position is not guaranteed, so you serve at the pleasure of the director and that was phenomenal. I did a lot of work with natural resource, outdoor recreation all of that. So I got to work in the DNR's Detroit office, and this was shortly after the DNR had assumed responsibility of Belle Isle, so I got to learn about parks in urban settings and the role that they play in communities and all that, and it was just fascinating. From there, obviously, it was another two-year job, so I was done at the end of 2018. I found a job for Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance, where I am at today, I started as a contractor in that role doing like what I did in the legislature, working with communities and bringing groups of people together to find consensus on projects or herding cats as we like to call it. So it's a skill set that you develop in the legislature that you can... You need that skill anywhere you go, I'm sure most of you could attest to. So I really enjoyed that, and then the executive director decided that he was going to retire, so I'm like, "Okay, well, maybe I'll put my name in the hat for his job." And it was funny, I had just come out of maternity leave with my first kid, and started as executive director of a small non-profit.

0:10:34.1 Andrea: This was February of 2020, and we all know what happened in March of 2020. So it's been a roller coaster experience, quite a time to cut your teeth in the non-profit sector, but it's been wonderful, I love... I love everything about my job, I love working with communities. It still has that public service aspect in it that I really enjoy. I also serve on four or five boards in the community, non-profit boards, as well as my county's Parks and Rec Commission, 'cause that's something I'm passionate about. When I got married, I moved to Oakland County. So I grew up with, I was very fortunate like hundred acre farm field in the backyard, open space everywhere. Now I can see my neighbors if I just look outside and it's different, so I've become dependent on public spaces for my open space and that that now fuels my passion and what I do with Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance. So that's the highlights. I'm happy to go into any details or expand further. It's hard to summarize it all in such a short period of time, but... Yeah, I'll be open and transparent. So feel free to ask me anything.

0:11:49.5 Andrea: I also, in a new role, I teach a class at Central Michigan University about campaigns, politics, elections and the Michigan legislature. So it's been fun to have that connection, and I believe, Rusty, I think you are going to moderate question and answer. You're muted.

0:12:17.3 Rusty: Andrea we're so glad to have you. Thank you very much. Love hearing your story and how you got started, amazing story, but it's one that's very applicable to everybody we have. And for those of you that are on, the whole point is to encourage dialogue, so we wanna hear from you, we want to engage you and Andrea as well. So whatever questions you might have about her background, what you'd like to do, running for office, what's it like in public service, what are the highlights? What are the highs, the lows? We'd like to hear from you whatever the question is, feel free to either raise your hand or type it in the chat box, and I'll be happy to pass to it along. And I know we already have one question for you, Andrea, from the RSVPs. So I'll start with that while everybody else sort of gets around what they'd like to ask you. But here's the first question, and this comes from Lindsey, how do you navigate promoting recreation and biking in a state like Michigan that relies so much on the car culture and the car industry? 

0:13:20.5 Andrea: It's a very good point. It is something that we battle here, 'cause... I wouldn't necessarily say it's a battle as much as it is a balance, we're proud of the fact that we are the auto capital, we put the world on wheels. As we say, "Well, people also ride two wheels too, it's not just four, sometimes it's man powered, it's not horse powered." And so we work a lot with... You'd be surprised to know that those that invest most in trails is actually Michigan Department of Transportation, so it's very forward-facing is outdoor recreation, natural resources, but having these other forms of active transportation are critical and ingrained in our Department of Transportation, which we generally just think of roads. So we're constantly reminding people that not everyone has access to a car and some rely on public transit and some maybe even ride on a bicycle, or they need even the connection of a trail from either their community to where they're working to walk if they wanna walk to get there. So we need to be all-encompassing of all modes of transportation, but it is something we are very, very car focused.

0:14:34.9 Andrea: I like to think that we're moving a little right, so it's almost as the mentality towards electric vehicles is starting to change, that being associated with the positive impacts that it has on the environment. That opens the door for us to talk a little bit more too about the positive impacts that we have by non-motorized transportation.

0:14:54.9 Rusty: Good. Well, thank you and Lindsey good question so thanks for getting us started. And we've actually got quite a number of questions here, so I'm just gonna take them in order, and the first one comes from one of our outstanding students who's also in my class, Christy. And her question to you is this: What do you wish you would have known going in that you think would have better prepared you to be a state representative? 

0:15:21.6 Andrea: That's a good question. There's a lot of things that I wish I would have known going in, and as I referenced, I was very much... I'm a textbook person, I feel like when I'm going into something I don't know about, I can read it and feel like I know it in learning that that is not the case, especially off the case when you have children... Well, let me tell you about that. I think I read a million books on that, and I still don't know what I'm doing, but figuring it out. The legislature is very, very similar in that regard. Every instance, I feel I had to learn the hard way, such as relationships with your colleagues and trust, you just assume that... The legislature can be lonely. I'll say this, it's very dog-eat-dog, and it trains you to think of yourself and think your district, and you could have a really good idea that you wanna share with a colleague, and you can take that idea to them and then they can turn it into their own bill the next day, and this happened to me, and it's people that you think you can trust, but it's almost like...

0:16:28.3 Andrea: I wouldn't say I would have wanted to go into the experience not trusting anyone because it taught me. It taught me a lot about working with people into value the relationships of good trust and loyalty and all of that, so I think going into it with open eyes and also learning that people want to be heard. Often politicians... It's assumed and I'm sure, you've heard a lot from me these first 28 minutes or so, or 18 minutes, but it's more important to listen to people and they just wanna be heard than it is to talk and it's okay if you don't have the answers. I had assumed I had to have the answers to everything, but people value a response of "I'm not sure, but I'll get back to you" just as much as they do the correct answer, 'cause then they know you're taking the time to invest in what they're asking you and you're coming back with something of substance. So knowing that's okay to look for the answers, to not have them, it's also okay to change your mind. I've seen this a few times, and I learned my vote flipped on an education budget and I was known as a flip flopper, and it didn't feel good. I got attacks for flipping my vote, but I was doing what I felt was right.

0:17:50.2 Andrea: And while it feels uncomfortable, it is okay, it is okay to change, it's okay to change at any point in time, because really the decisions that you're making, you're making the best decision you can with the information you have at that time. And you can gather more information, and if you have the ability to go back and change it, you can do that as well. So I feel like I have a novel of lessons learned the hard way, but I think knowing that it's okay to change your mind and alter your position, is probably a critical one because I still know people to this day that are currently serving... Maybe they paint themselves into a corner and they're not sure how to come out of it, but it's okay, it's alright. And it's all over eventually. It feels very immediate and right now, but it'll pass.

0:18:36.0 Rusty: It sounds like there's a book there "Things I Wish I had Known or Lessons Learned from the Legislature." Well, good question. Alright, here's our next one, also from an outstanding student, and I know this 'cause this student's also in my class. Jeffrey asks this question, first of all, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today, Andrea. My question, what were some of the challenges you faced running for office at such a young age, and how do you convince voters to support someone who may not have a tremendous amount of professional work experience? 

0:19:11.5 Andrea: So one of... It's funny, I actually Googled before this, I wanted to see if any of the news stories at the time were still floating out there, and you'll know in one of them, Yahoo, picked up a Detroit Free Press article, I wanna say, or Detroit News article, and in the article, they were interviewing people that I was waiting on in the restaurant, and the woman spoke her concern about me being young. She had a son that was my age, and she doesn't think he could handle public office, so how could I? But the upside to that is that inexperience was also a gift in that I was moldable, I wasn't set in a way and I didn't have this previous set of criteria that I felt I needed to abide by, I was literally coming into it with fresh eyes, and an open mind and just trying to do what was best for the people of my district.

0:20:09.5 Andrea: So I couldn't tell people I was older than I was, they knew how old I was. So there was no getting away from that. So I decided to own it, but youth and inexperience was, it came at me all the time. And "You're right, but those are things I can't change about myself, I can gain experience along the way, but I cannot change how old I am. So if that's all you can attack me on have at it because I can't improve on it." I'll get older over time and I'll gain that experience, but really just running with it and learning, you learn a lot about spinning and altering a message to tell your side of it.

0:20:46.7 Andrea: And that's what I told them I said "I may be young, but listen, I'm here for the right reasons. This is what I see is Michigan's future. I don't want you to have to take a plane to go visit your grandkids, I want you to be able to keep them, raise them, have your family's here." And I believe that resonated. I also told them I didn't want to leave the state, and it was looking like I would have to. So I could make the message resonate on that level as well, but youth and inexperience was the biggest thing. I'll see if I can find that Yahoo link too.

0:21:18.2 Rusty: Okay, thank you. Well, our next question comes from another one of our outstanding students at the Ford School, who also happens to be in the class... My class, Justin asks, Andrea, thanks so much for speaking with us today. I'm curious about the most challenging parts of running for office. Was anything extra difficult that you did not first expect, and was your family supportive of your run? 

0:21:47.0 Andrea: Yes. I just put the link in the chat [0:21:49.0] ____.

0:21:49.3 Rusty: Thank you.

0:21:52.8 Andrea: So hardest parts of running for office, the lack of resources is always working against you when you're working with someone that has a lot of them, but like I said, you can outwork them and with enough messaging and direct voter contact, it's possible. For me, what was hard was... It was eye opening was adults that acted more immature than people of my age. I'm trying to figure out how to say that best, but it was, people are mean. There are a lot of really good and kind people out there, but in politics, you have to get some thick skin and not care. And it took me a little bit to learn that I was like, "Why does this man have so much hatred towards me to write what he's writing in the comment section?" First off don't read the comment section, don't read that. Just word of advice, never read that. But that was what I struggled and my family struggled with that more, I think than I did. I had a pretty contentious office hours, I held office hours regularly in district at a library, and I knew when I showed up to the parking lot and there were like 20 people protesting outside that it was not gonna be a good meeting and probably the longest hour and a half ever.

0:23:10.5 Andrea: And it was. But my mom was with me, and she had a very hard time with people being so cruel really and... They were expressing their thoughts, but they also weren't willing to listen, and they were also making some pretty ridiculous assumptions versus actually getting to know me and my position on the issues, but through that experience and you always remember how people make you feel. And my takeaway from that is, in any situation, the second that you lose your temper and you lose control, you lose the argument. So it molded how I then, in those scenarios, how I reacted and I noticed the only thing I can control is my reaction to something, and I did not wanna be like those people. And I didn't want anyone to feel like how they made me feel, so from that I grew but I mean, it's hard, it's hard to sit there and get yelled at for an hour and a half, especially when your only 23 and you're being yelled at by people that are twice your age and some.

0:24:14.2 Rusty: And you mentioned about your family that the second question was, how supportive was your family to your running for office? 

0:24:21.2 Andrea: So my family, my immediate family was incredibly supportive, they hold the same political ideals as I do, but my extended family, which I'm also really close to... I have some uncles who are like mini men in the UWA and work for GM and their political ideals are a little bit different. So they were supportive. I think they liked that I was willing to get out there regardless of what party I was affiliated with, they appreciated that, so they appreciated someone's willingness to really just jump out there and do it. But at the end of the day, we always have our issues that we disagree on and we still do today, we banter back and forth all the time. So immediate family, 100% supportive. They were always in my corner, always working the polls, my mom knocked probably just as many doors as I did, so it was great to have their support.

0:25:14.7 Rusty: Good. Okay, another question from another one of our outstanding Ford School students in my class, Sam asks this. I'm interested in how you found working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle at the state legislature, were they generally more flexible and cooperative, or were they more combative and partisan? 

0:25:37.2 Andrea: And I'm sure people say this all the time, but it is... We work together more often than what you see in the newspapers, newspaper and media, they thrive on the drama and the rift between parties, and we know that we're operating in hyper partisan times right now, but what's being reported is that very amplified little bit. The majority of the time, we're all willing to work together, all of the time. I will share that my closest colleagues were actually not from my own party, they were from the other side of the aisle and we just worked really, really well together. So you find it's more of personalities than it is political ideologies that you know are invested in similar interests, and you move the ball forward, also recognizing that it is a game of trust and there is strategy involved, and...

0:26:25.5 Andrea: They probably recognize at the time too, because I was in the party of the majority that working with me would probably help further their agendas as well. So I'm sure that played into it, but I will say it is probably 97% of the time, it was good, cordial professional relationships, 3% of the time were people that I think held a grudge over the fact that when you beat an incumbent, that incumbent has relationships in that chamber that you're coming into.

0:26:58.2 Andrea: I felt the same thing in 2012 when three of my close colleagues didn't come back and did I have a grudge towards those three people who knock them off at first of course you're gonna be upset. But then you have to give them, again, channeling the thought that I'm like, "I don't want this person to treat me like that person did, so I'm gonna give them the benefit of the doubt, get to know them, and know that they're all people. " We're all people, at the end of the day, I know it sounds funny to have a title and be elected and you think something comes with [0:27:29.0] ____ but at the end of the day, we're all human. So yeah, we worked together way more than what you see in the media.

0:27:37.8 Rusty: Thank you. By the way, everybody who's asked a question has responded, Thank you, so I just... I wanna make sure you see that. A couple of follow-ups from our students, Christy asks this... Or I'm sorry, Jeff asks this, How did campaigning changed from your first race to your last race? Did you place more emphasis on digital advertising and social media, or did you stick with more of the traditional campaign tactics, like knocking on doors, phone banks, that sort of thing? 

0:28:06.2 Andrea: So my term was 2011 to... My last campaign was in 2014, would have been my last election, so that was still a while ago, the digital advertising, it wasn't as prolific as it is today, which I think is both a blessing and a curse. 'Cause there are positives, the negatives that come with the ability to do that, so the campaign relied heavily... We did a lot of direct mail and door knock, I will always say that door knocking... It's really funny because if you think about it, if someone knocks on your door right now do you answer it? Most of us don't. You're like, "No, just leave a note," or you check your Ring doorbell and you're like, "I don't know if I wanna go talk to them," but when you do get to engage with a voter, they remember that, 'cause I remember that... It would have been my last cycle of campaigning doors that I knocked were like, "We remember when you came here back in 2010, and we're so grateful that you did." So while it feels like you're not having a huge impact, that direct voter contact is really critical.

0:29:12.5 Rusty: Good to know. Thank you, thank you. By the way, Christy said she just saw the article that you posted in the chat. Thank you. And when you said hash browns or American fries, she said, "I knew you were talking about Ken's because my parents are regulars at the Hayes location." So you've already made a connection, see.

0:29:32.8 Andrea: There we go Ken's Country Kitchen really, really good breakfast, if you're ever in the area.

0:29:36.5 Rusty: I'm getting hungry just listening to this as a matter of fact. Justin asks the next question, do you have any plans to run for another office in the future? 

0:29:47.8 Andrea: It's a good question. So I try to explain what this feeling is like when you run for office, like I'm a big pro-con list person before I make any big decision. And at that time in 2010, when I was making that list on whether or not we should do this after my parents had encouraged me. I started seeing the path to yes, and the reasons why, so not just doing it for the sake of gaining that campaign experience, which is what I wanted, but I could see how it translated and that I could be a representative, and I had that fire in the belly, so to speak. After I got out of the legislature... It's funny, it makes it sounds like a sentence after I got out. I needed time to cool off, 'cause it's six years of you're running hard and fast and you're moving on so many different issues that at that time I was like, "I don't know if I would want to get back into it." However, I will say lately, I have encountered issues where I have felt like... Government feels broken. And this isn't necessarily at the federal level or the state level, this to me right now is currently at a more local or county level, and I hate that feeling, I hate that feeling more than anything, 'cause I think a government's job is to serve people, so while I don't think that fire in the belly is at that level where I'm ready to jump back in, I will say that feeling is still there, and if it continues to grow, then absolutely.

0:31:29.3 Andrea: I think I would, I don't know what and I don't know where, and I would wanna make sure... I've only lived in this current community that I'm in for five years in Oakland County, so I think I still have a lot more to know and understand about this community before I were to say, "Yes, I wanna represent you in the legislature." So all those different factors that come into play when making that decision, but the one that seems to really amp that feeling up the most is when I feel like government's not doing its job, and I felt that pretty recently, and it was not pretty. I know my husband's like, "Are you still talking about this?" I'm like, "Yes, because I'm still mad about it."

0:32:08.3 Rusty: Well, good. Our next question comes from another one of our outstanding Ford students. Also in my class, Elena writes this. Andrea, thank you for being here. I'd like to know what a typical day in your office looks like, and how do you balance between meeting the needs of your constituents with your own agenda or your political goals? 

0:32:32.5 Andrea: So a typical day... Sometimes I wonder was there ever a typical day, it feels like... That's another thing politics teaches you is... I often feel too, my job is just putting out fires on a daily basis, and sometimes that's what it can feel like in politics, and that's what it feels like sometimes now in the non-profit sector. So I'm learning how to manage issues and figure out which ones deserve priority and how to address them. So a typical day would be coming into a session day in Lansing, so Mondays and Fridays you're in district, and then Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday you're traditionally in Lansing. You have your committee meetings. I was very grateful I had the opportunity to serve on the Leadership Team, I was both elected to a caucus position in my second term and in my third term. So with that came the internal politics of working with the Republican caucus, committee meetings, as well as you have meetings with lobbyists, you have constituents that do sometimes come to Lansing, and it's basically... It's almost every half hour is something different, which is really like... If I remember looking at my schedule up until session, so I get to my office around maybe 8 o'clock, start taking meetings at 8:39 and every half hour, you could discuss everything from feral swine that was an issue for a while.

0:33:57.8 Andrea: Dog fighting in Detroit, that was another issue, the Detroit bail out like the range of topics that you can cover in three straight hours of half-hour meetings, you get a little bit of whiplash, but it's also fun, because you're learning something new every time, but it also is a testament to what you... You're inch deep and a mile wide on so many issues, that's one thing where I do miss that when I was in it at the time, I didn't think I liked it because I didn't feel like I could be an expert at anything, but now that I'm more focused in the natural resource and trails, sometimes I'm like, "I wanna dabble in this over here, or I wanna learn more about this." So a typical day was usually a vast array of things, meet with lobbyists, you go to your committee meetings, you go to session, and then you go home and balancing district with Lansing it's, Lansing can feel when you're there, 'cause that's where the chess strategy is really coming into play and moving an agenda forward. It's very much inside baseball, so I always had to check myself if I was ever fired up about something in Lansing and be like, "Do my constituents back home even though this is going on, or are they familiar with this issue?"

0:35:17.1 Andrea: "Does this matter to them?" And also, I try to be cognizant of the fact that my district when I first started was only the base I wanna say it was around 52%. So I went into it recognizing that while 52% may support me, that 48% still deserves representation, so no matter what, I was always open-minded, always welcome to people to office hours and willing to work on any issues that mattered to them, because it was my job to represent them. And I was just one constituent in my own district, so I couldn't really go there with my own agenda, that wouldn't be fair. Although people do. Just wasn't me.

0:35:55.6 Rusty: Well, Justin says, thank you, and also adds, you have my support if you get that fire in your belly again, so...

0:36:01.8 Andrea: Thanks.

0:36:02.3 Rusty: Yeah, there's one vote. Cindy, who's outstanding, but not a student, she asks, what lessons did you take from your elected office to help make you successful in your current role? 

0:36:15.7 Andrea: I would say the biggest lesson is with every issue I try to see all sides of it before making a decision, and that has become so critical. So in communities where we build trails, most people love trails, they love using them and like hiking and biking. But there are some communities that don't... They like to use trails, but they don't want them in their community, so trying to understand that like, "Well, our mission is to advance the network of trails throughout the state of Michigan. Why is the community opposed?" If they have concerns, those concerns need to be heard, and is there anything that we can do to address or alleviate those concerns versus just going into a community and say, "We wanna put a trail here, and this is why." So it's taught me to step back and look at all sides of it and try to find common ground, and usually that common ground while it feels uncomfortable and nobody's getting what they want, it's usually when the best product comes out. So that was a lesson I learned in the legislature that I often carry with me today, just trying to see things from all perspectives and take all concerns into consideration.

0:37:20.0 Rusty: Okay, good, thank you. We've got... Malek Badoon asks this question. Actually, it's a two-parter. The first is, what was the most rewarding part of being an elected official? And then the second is, did you find it harder as a female in Lansing than your male colleagues? 

0:37:40.2 Andrea: Okay, two great questions. What did I find most rewarding? Yeah, I think it was the wins for the district. At the end of the day, you always have to... No matter what your career is, you have to take time to celebrate the small wins, because that's what keeps you coming back and fueled in what you're doing. And it was something as simple as like when I said government doesn't work, we had a woman who was on government assistance and the state agency that she was dealing with had just lost her file, so her assistance was cut off just before the holidays because that file was just not there anymore. Which to me is unacceptable. How does that just happen? There's someone who is dependent on something in a critical time, and all of a sudden this goes missing and you don't have an answer for her. Well you need to find her answer and you need to right this wrong, so it was instances like that that I felt like I was making a difference. I felt like I was able to take her issue directly to the source and help address it because we all know what it's like to call and have to talk to an automated phone system and all these options and not get anywhere.

0:38:57.2 Andrea: And who has the time to do that? So when we could make those connections for residents that always felt good. It always felt like we were doing what we should be doing.

0:39:09.4 Rusty: And then the second part was, was it harder for you as a woman in Lansing than for your male colleagues in the legislature? 

0:39:18.0 Andrea: I don't know if I would say it was harder or if it was just... It's different. And I think women still experience this today, I, myself still battle... I get very, very frustrated after having my first child that I was like, "Men don't have to go on maternity leave, they don't have to take 8 to 12 weeks off and worry about still being part of the game when they get back." Being a woman comes with a separate set of obstacles that by all means, I think we are definitely more than able to get over those obstacles, we just have to navigate them a little differently. And do I think it's easier or harder? I think it's just different.

0:40:02.3 Rusty: Did you experience sexism? What was your experience in Lansing with that? 

0:40:08.1 Andrea: Yeah, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't. You do, you get and even being young, you get comments quite often, so my way of dealing with that is I equate people's comments to their intellect, and I'm like, "Wow, if you're really gonna say that what does that say about you?" I'm like, "You're probably not gonna be my go-to for anything." So that was my own internal way of dealing with it, I'm like, "Think before you speak people." But did I ever take offense to any of it, I think because I would just equate it to, "Oh, it's not that they don't know better, it's just that they are choosing to say that," which to me, I'm like, "Well, maybe they're just not that bright." But I mean yes, it exists. It is there, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't. And I think how people choose to deal with it, you have to choose what works best for you in that situation, that's what worked best for me. I equate it to their intellect, and then came to the conclusion that they're not very smart.

0:41:13.3 Rusty: Okay. Good, good for you. Justin has a follow-up question. And it's a good one. Was there ever a time when you had to vote against your conscience, and if so, how did you end up making the decision on which way to vote? 

0:41:30.8 Andrea: That is a really good question. So voting your conscious and voting your constituents, they were two of... It was "Is it constitutional? How does it feel with the conscience and what does your constituents think?" The guiding three Cs for decisions that you make on votes. There are still a couple of decisions that I wonder if I would do... I know I would do them differently today, so I will say at that time, I voted my conscience. Do I think my conscience has changed? Yes, now being older, experiences that I've directly encountered myself, just different life experiences. So at that time, it felt right, if I would go back today, I would probably do it differently.

0:42:22.6 Rusty: Okay. Alright. As I said everyone that's put a question has responded with a thank you, so you're getting great reviews from all the questioners and all the students, so I appreciate that. Tell me about the role of lobbyists, people think big bad always proceeds lobbyists like the big bad lobbyist. Are they really as bad as people think? Did they help you at all in terms of dealing with issues or understanding issues? Particularly with term limits where you're coming in, particularly given your age, where you're coming in at a young age. Were they helpful to you? Explain the reaction or your interaction with lobbyists in Lansing.

0:43:03.9 Andrea: I do think lobbyists have a bad reputation, I think a few bad ones ruin it for the rest, people have a right to petition their government, and that is often done in the form of lobbying. I have found lobbyist to be resources, 'cause that's represent... They don't just represent... When you think of maybe like the NRA lobbyist or the Humane Society of the US lobbyist or these larger politically amplified scenarios, you also have lobbyist who represent non-profit and who maybe are just representing your county or your local government may even have lobbyist in Lansing and that's important because those voices need to be heard. And those lobbyists know how to get to their legislators, how to navigate the process, and they're a tool, they are a tool that I think is critical to the function of democracy and people being involved. By all means, if you have an issue, you are always welcome to go and testify in front of committee, but lobbyist often know when to schedule the meetings with the legislators, how to help influence the way bills are written. And like I said, while you had the big tobacco lobbyist and you have all those other ones, the majority of the ones up there represent really good clients who see the value of having that voice in part of the process. And in term limits...

0:44:30.9 Andrea: Yeah, sometimes you do, you lean on people who have had those relationships for 10, 20 years with different organizations. So I served on energy committee my last term, and if there is any topic area that is so fascinating but so complicated and in depth, I had to lean on a lot of people with the expertise that I knew I would not be able to gain in two years. So I would have study sessions with different folks saying "Hey can you give me like the 101 version of this? Or, give me the cliff notes. Or, what do I need to know?" And a lot of times, legislation has gone through a cycle before. So some issues aren't new, they're just being refreshed and taken a different approach, and learning the history is just as important as learning the issue and learning how we got here today and why this is being proposed and maybe why that didn't solution... Why it didn't work out in the past, why it might work out now? So all of those different scenarios, those that lobby on behalf of associations or different groups and whatnot, they all bring an important layer to the conversation.

0:45:40.5 Rusty: Good. Thank you, Miriam raises a point that I wanna make sure everybody knows, and this is designed to be a dialogue, so even if you've already asked one question, feel free to ask another one, Andrea is with us until 12:30, and so she's open to responding to anything you might have whatever it may be about running through office, serving in government. What's it like? So feel free to keep those questions coming. One question I wanted to just shoot your way, Andrea is, everybody thinks that money talks in politics, and...

0:46:15.5 Rusty: There have been some stories in the papers recently, because in healthcare, which is such a complicated topic, some firms provide a lot of campaign contributions on both sides of the aisle, same is true on the energy front, also a complicated issue which you just talked about. Telecommunications, is another very, very horny thicket to sort of wade through. How does that work? People outside always think that if you get a contribution then that that means you're sort of bought and paid for. Can you explain that process? 

0:46:52.7 Andrea: So if you receive a contribution... First off there are so many filing requirements when you receive those dollars, both from those giving those dollars into those that are accepting those dollars. I always do... I result to, in a lot of issues like follow the money, follow the money, see where it's going, who they're supporting, it can usually lead you to an agenda. But I will also share with you that I have taken people's money, not people, businesses and I've also voted against them, and there's something about that, that almost like it just reinforces the fact that you are not beholden to an individual just because they're supporting your cause. Because granted, an issue may come up and they may have been a prime or a contributor of yours in the past, but you might think differently about it. And I was always a strong believer that if it was somebody I had worked with before, and I was generally in sync with them, but on this one, I just couldn't get there, I just let them know that. I just flat out told them, "Listen, I can't get here and here are my reasons why."

0:47:51.6 Andrea: And I mean, you... Technically you don't even know them an explanation, you don't. It's not quid pro quo, it's not this in exchange for that, it is you're investing in this candidate in this campaign, you don't know what they're going to vote on or how. So it's a risk that they take, but I think as long as you are clear and you communicate, you communicate your thoughts and your concerns and all of that, I would say... We just discussed this in my class as well, I had them write a paper on whether or not people should or shouldn't take PAC dollars, and I'm interested to read what their findings are out of all of this. But I think more so than not, similar to the question about Dems and Republicans working together on both sides of the aisle of people are not bought and paid for.

0:48:35.3 Rusty: Good to know. One of the students says, I met you with the Michigan Association of Insurance Agents, Scott Humble a while back, and the student says you were fantastic, so...

0:48:46.8 Andrea: Thank you.

0:48:49.3 Rusty: Good feedback, and then also, your predictions or comments on the upcoming gubernatorial race in Michigan in 2022. What do you think... Or 2024 I should say, no 2022.

0:49:03.2 Andrea: Yeah, 2022. It's funny 'cause I always ask my guest speakers this too, and I'm always fascinated by what they have to say. I don't know, sorry that is my dog. So I think the governor is in an interesting position. I think COVID, COVID I think is still going to be a very prevalent issue and how things were handled. I also, I don't feel like we necessarily have a super, super strong contender yet, and I know there's still time, and also with redistricting, like what is going on with redistricting? Does anybody know what... Are those maps gonna be finalized? I know if I were currently sitting in office and I didn't know what my districts looked like next year, I would probably be a little concerned and a little upset with that. So there's a lot of factors out there. I will say, I feel like I always get my hopes up, but I don't know, I think anything's possible. I think really since the Trump election in, what, 2016 boy has that just rocked everyone's world as far as predictions, nobody imagined or saw or thought that would possibly happen and are polls accurate? 

0:50:21.2 Andrea: I think we should be taking note of all of these election cycles and results because it has shaken up everything. So my predictions for 2022, I think... I don't know, I don't know, I don't really wanna say because so much can change since then, but I will tell you what I'll be watching it.

0:50:44.9 Rusty: You mentioned redistricting, talk to us just a minute about that, because in the past, it was always done by the political, the politicians, whoever was in the majority, and then if there was split government, it generally ended up in the courts. Now there's been a different system in place because of the voters voting on an initiative. Give us your thoughts on that.

0:51:06.0 Andrea: So voters not politicians, was the ballot initiative, which I will be transparent with you, I did not vote for. I think we're seeing an interesting process play out to my understanding, maybe this process works in California, I don't know if it's... Not everything that works in California is gonna work in Michigan, our state comes with its own unique set of characteristics that maybe make any issue a little more complex. I'll be interested to see if the maps are actually totally done and finalized by the end of the year. As a product or redistricting I was drawn out of my district in the last round of redistricting, so they moved... And I say my district lines as if it was really my district, but the district that I had the privilege of serving they drew me out of it by like a half mile. I'm like, "You couldn't just move that line just a half mile." Which is fine. I was living with my parents, so I tell people that, "You know what the Republican Party kicked me out of my parents house before my parents did," but it's okay 'cause I just moved right down the road and lived in a farmhouse.

0:52:09.6 Andrea: It was fantastic. So redistricting, it's a unique animal. And this whole commission and how this process is playing out, I will say my students did give a pretty good feedback from the meeting that was held on campus that they felt it seemed like a very fair process and that those serving on the commission knew what they were talking about and knew what they were doing. I know that there are laws that stipulate rules that govern redistricting and things that you need to be mindful of, but I just hope the maps are fair and I hope people are happy with them.

0:52:45.8 Rusty: We're getting close to the end, but here's one last question from one of our students, Elena asks, Can you talk about some of the quantitative skills or policy tools that have been most helpful to you in public office? 

0:53:00.2 Andrea: Policy tools that are most helpful. So there's a... I have multi answers to that question, metrics, metrics are always key with everything. I think having numbers and being able to show hard data and how those metrics can change, transform, whether it be for good or better, I hope that... That furthers a narrative, and it also helps you communicate a message regarding policy back in your district. How you talk policy in Lansing is different than how you may approach policy in your district. In Lansing, people usually are very, very familiar with the details and the nuances, and to be honest, people back home that probably bores them to death, which you can't blame them there, so finding ways to talk about policy in a way that resonate with a diverse audience, I think is critical. So I think communication and metrics are really, really key factors, but numbers don't lie. Granted there is fuzzy math out there, we know that, but yeah, if you can get the numbers to support any of your policy decisions, I think that's usually helpful. Most helpful.

0:54:13.9 Rusty: Was there an organization that people look to to give unbiased advice or alternately within each caucus where there are certain people that were mentors on particular issues that you'd look to for guidance? 

0:54:30.0 Andrea: Yes, so the House and the Senate, both have fiscal agencies which are non-partisan positions, they're the people that work behind the scenes to really investigate the impacts of fiscal policy in that regard, there are... Granted, each party has their own policy staff, but if you look at the years that a person has been there and involved in that policy, regardless of which party they're with, you can always go... I like to call them the institutional pillars that you wanna go to because they know the ins and outs, they've been there the longest and they've examined it, so regardless of which party they reside in, if someone has been around the block a time or two with an issue, they're the person, the expert that you wanna talk to about the issues.

0:55:11.6 Rusty: Okay, alright, Miriam, I think we're getting to the close, maybe I should just ask if you have any final thoughts or last words or lessons that you'd like to leave the students before we wrap it up today? 

0:55:23.2 Andrea: I will probably say, if you're thinking about a career in policy or politics... Well first off, policy is everywhere, so don't just assume that it has to be politics to be associated with policy, policy and politics for that matter are in every single profession. I am convinced it is there, so it's a skill set that is applicable no matter where you go, and policy to me is fascinating, the ability to change it, work on it, any of that. If any of you are considering running for office, I encourage it, the experience in itself is worth it. I think you'll come out of it with a really, really strong appreciation for both government and people, there's always more good than there is bad out there, so I think you would learn that I think you'd appreciate it. If there is ever anything that I can help with, if you're thinking about it, I'll share my contact information with you, feel free, call, text, email, granted my experiences, it's like 10 years old now, it's a little stale, but if you just want someone to offer honest feedback or kick some ideas around, please don't hesitate to reach out. That's what I'm here for.

0:56:37.3 Rusty: Very good.

0:56:39.3 Cindy: Yeah. Wow. Rusty, first of all, thank you for bringing Andrea to us. Andrea, this has been so fabulous and you touched on so many things that I think our students are interested in, that I know, I'm interested in. I used to joke about the fact that I had a scarlet L for being a lobbyist. Thank you for pointing out how important... My last 23 years in DC, I was the University of Michigan lobbyist, so we had to bring a lot of important information to members of Congress. And that last question, no the last fews things about the quantitative... Also just talking about the fact how important quantitative and qualitative points are in making and changing policy. I just really appreciate all your incredible insight, and I'm looking forward to our followup conversation, I'm gonna send you an email and get something on the calendar. And I just wanna wish everybody or ask everybody to join me in thanking Andrea.

0:57:37.3 Rusty: Yeah, very good. Good job.

0:57:41.9 Cindy: Thank you.

0:57:42.6 Andrea: Thank y'all.

0:57:42.7 Cindy: I know that there are people behind those names.

0:57:45.2 Rusty: Great questions today too from the students.

0:57:47.8 Cindy: Fabulous questions. This was one of the best interactive sessions we've had, so thank you very much.

0:57:55.6 Andrea: You're welcome, thank you.

0:57:56.8 Cindy: Try and go enjoy some of the sunshine.

0:57:58.4 Andrea: Yeah, right, thanks for joining us, Andrea.

0:58:00.2 Cindy: Thank you.