Tell me a little bit about your background.
So for about fifteen years, I worked on state campaigns, both legislative campaigns and then worked on a number of statewide campaigns for a governor and a president here in Michigan. So I did that for about fifteen years, and then, once my husband and I were ready to start a family, I was looking to transition, so I went to work in the state senate for roughly two years, and then in 2011, and since then, I’ve been with the Great Lakes Education Project..
I’m personally interested in working on campaigns, could you tell me a little bit about what that was like?
It’s completely intense. It’s extremely long hours and it’s extremely tiring but at the same time it’s the biggest adrenaline rush for political junkies that you can get, and I was very blessed to work for candidates that I believed in completely, and believed in what they stood for and believed in them as human beings, so it was very easy to be motivated to work for them. I work on the political side, which is a lot of the ground effort, so coordinating volunteers, doing the mail programs, both paid and volunteer, tracking absentee ballots, getting folks out to the polls, calling supporters. A lot of the management of what is sort of public ground-game, so to speak. And then as I grew in campaigns, I also managed for one gubernatorial in 2006, managed all of our paid campaign activities, so all of our film shoots, promotionals, the radio, the phone calls, in addition to overseeing the field team that was out doing the volunteer recruitment.
Who’s campaigns did you work for?
There’s a lot of them. Most political resumes change jobs every two years, and it doesn’t look well in the corporate world, but it is what it is. I worked for President Bush, both in 2000 and in 2004 here in Michigan. I worked for Dick Posthumus’s gubernatorial campaign in ‘02, and then Dick DeVos’s campaign in ‘06, and after that I did some consulting work before I went to the senate.
What made you decide you wanted to work in politics?
Honestly, when I was in high school, I had the opportunity to go to Washington, DC for Project Close-Up. I’m not sure if that even exists anymore, but it was an opportunity for high school juniors to go see the nation’s capital, do all of the tourist-y stuff, but also go to panel discussions on everything from international relations to how government works here. It really sparked a bug in me that I wanted to pursue further, and so I started volunteering for local candidates back home when I was in high school. And then I discovered James Madison College at Michigan State, and knew that that was absolutely what I wanted to do, and through that, I identified an internship at the state capitol, and that’s kind of the end of the story. I just have been almost obsessive about it since then.
What would you say your biggest success is?
Well I’d be remiss to say it wasn’t my children first and foremost. But in my career, historically, on the campaign side, I would say it’s motivating candidates and being a part of an organization that changes the dynamic for lives all over the country or state, and I’m a very small part of that, but that’s a very rewarding opportunity. In this current job, as it relates to education policy, I would say I was one of the lead lobbyists for the charter cap elimination in the state, and that was a huge success for parents and students to be able to have more choice and opportunity, so I’m really thrilled to have been a part of that.
What made you decide you wanted to work at the Great Lakes Education Project?
Because of the work I’ve done in the Republican Party, and education freedom is a big platform for the party, I’ve always watched it and admired those that have been engaged in it. Given the work with Posthumus and DeVos in the past, they are national leaders in the school choice movement, and the opportunity really presented itself, and I was looking for something outside of the senate, and we had just had our second child, and the Great Lakes Education Project was looking to expand and bring staff on to help with public policy and and politics, and it really just kind of married all of us together.
So you’re the Advocacy Director at the Great Lakes Education Project, can you tell me about what that job entails?
A whole bunch of everything. We have three sort of umbrellas, or three legs on our stool as an organization. We have a political action committee, where we raise dollars to spend on behalf of state legislative candidates. So, in that regard, I evaluate and interview all of the candidates that we are considering supporting and make the determination of who will receive what level of support, and then work on all of our paid advertising, whether it’s mail, phone, or radio, on behalf of those candidates. That also entails fundraising. We have to raise our own money to be able to fund it so we have to work on the budgets. We also have a C4 organization where we do our lobbying and advocacy in the legislature. I’m a registered lobbyist, and advocate on behalf of the legislation we support or oppose, and work with the state legislators there. We also have a C3 organization which is our foundation, and that is to educate both the public and the legislators about national ed reform issues going on and sort of what the current debate is on education in the country, and so we do a lot of conversations and research and media efforts behind that.
What do you like most about your job?
I love that even, again, as small of a role that I am playing, I’m part of a movement that’s changing lives and creating hope for a generation of many kids who may not have it otherwise, and they were trapped in only one educational entity.
What makes your job difficult?
The status quo. I mean, there are armies of people who want to maintain the status quo in education, and are either fearful or resentful of the change, and empowering parents to make choices for their own children, so combatting half-truths or misinformation. Maybe a better way to say it is it’s a constant battle and it can become very weary at times.
What would you say the biggest mission of the Great Lakes Education Project is?
Hands down, it’s providing quality school choice for every Michigan K-12 student. We focus on grades K-12. Outside of that, we believe that students should be funded equally around the state from state dollars. We are launching a very aggressive campaign in the legislature right now to refocus the state on early literacy priorities. Right now, a third of all third graders are not proficient, which means they can’t read at grade-level. We find that to be one of the biggest social injustices we’re doing to our children, so we are shedding a light on early literacy and interventions that are going to help bring kindergarteners, first, and second-graders up to grade level and give them tools that they need to be successful early readers.
Why would you say that school choice is important?
Again, from my point of view, it’s about empowering parents. As a parent, you know better than anyone what decisions are best for your student and your child, and where they will thrive and in what environment, and the old factory model of a bottom in a seat in a classroom for eight hours a day is not necessarily the model that our society deals with on anything else anymore. So, providing opportunities, providing different ways to educate children, will keep them competitive and successful.