Sarah: So let’s start by talking about college. Where’d you go, what’d you major in, what’s the story?
Rep. LaVoy: Well for starters, I don’t have a college degree. No Bachelor’s. I went to U-of-M Ann Arbor and I was first interested in English, so I went on majoring in it. After a little bit, I changed my major, but stayed in the realm of liberal arts. I chose History because I have always had an interest in it and in fact, I still do. I did go to Monroe Catholic Central for high school and my father was a judge, so I was expected to live up to a certain standard within the community. For a short while I thought about law school, but I never made that move. Now, my father did and my sister did as well, but it was never the right timing for me.
. Sarah: Let’s talk the job you had before this. Where you started, the marks you believe you made, your greatest success(es) leading up to your election.
Rep. LaVoy : You know, a lot of it involves working in public access television. Allowing people to have a voice on TV for whatever their issues are. So to me, I saw it as a free speech outlet, you know, to where people wouldn’t have to buy air-time on major networks. I also felt it helped people learn how video was produced, and in addition, this came later on towards the end of my stint, but the educational radio aspect that was integrated into MPACT (Monroe Public Access Cable Television) held an outlet for free speech as well. I was more of the TV guy and another person I worked with was the radio guy. So I would say mostly it was the public access fostering free speech, as well as the educational aspect and the job training. There are quite a few people who have come through MPACT and gone onto work in those fields professionally. Video production, audio…
Sarah: More into the communications realm?
Rep. LaVoy: Yes, exactly. Communications in general, absolutely. Because we used to have high school kids come in and help with the production, direction, and general running of the shows.
Sarah: I remember a radio station being through the local high school and it has been for a long time. But you took it under your wing at MPACT?
Rep. LaVoy: Yes, we ended up buying the station. MPACT runs it, the transmitter is still at the high school, but we had kids come over to MPACT to get involved in the process. And you know, I haven’t been there in two years because I’ve been here [In Lansing, House of Representatives], but to me it was about enabling free speech and having a career technology opportunity, especially within the small community that we have in Monroe. We also put government meeting on TV for public disclosure of how things get done locally- mostly City of Monroe meetings. Government accountability was also a driver.
Sarah: What exactly was your position at MPACT?
Rep. LaVoy: Well I started out as Assistant to the Board of Directors. It’s a 501(c)(3) non-profit made up of 5 entities and I eventually worked my way up through the rankings and became the manager before I was the Executive Director. It really helped me leverage a network throughout the community, and that was back in 1994.
Sarah: So after that experience and coming into your job as a State Representative, what were your goals and how have they progressed throughout your terms?
Rep. LaVoy: I think the first goal with absolutely anything is to learn the job. I hate to put it that way, but there really isn’t any training for this job. You know, they put us through the two week political leadership program right before we start, but it’s learning the job, how things work in Lansing and how they get done.
Sarah: Now, how about the process and the way things actually get done. Do you think you’ve learned the ins and outs?
Rep. LaVoy: Well, that’s the question. What’s the process? You’re learning that, too. You’re learning the process of how things work, and then you have to learn how things really get done. And I’m still learning that and probably will be on my last day.
Sarah: I think that’s the job description of a politician to a “T.”
Rep. LaVoy: I think it is too. It isn’t always as it seems. Again its networking, who you know, and who you get along with, using opportunities to get things done as they come up. Sometimes the political climate of the nation can guide what happens here. It could be whatever issues happen to come up. You know, we have one with the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts. You can go back to the Right to Work discussion in Michigan as well; there’s always something at the forefront depending on political events.
Sarah: How about within your constituency? Would you say it’s more of a trickle-down from Lansing through you to your district, or is it more of a bottom-up mediator approach with you as the mediator?
Rep. LaVoy: You know, I don’t know about that one. I’d have to think about that a little bit.
Sarah: Because you do go back and forth between your constituency, but the majority of the work happens here.
Rep. LaVoy: The legislative work happens here. The constituent work really, even though you’re interfacing with state government, it’s a huge piece of the job, bigger than what most think. Blane [Legislative Assistant] and I were just talking about this in fact. You have people call because they have problems and they don’t know who to contact. It could be where someone files for unemployment and they haven’t received anything, they don’t know where it is in the system, they don’t know the process- so we can help with that. It could be other things where people interface with state government- Department of Human Services, Community Health- those are just some of the issues. And there are legislative liaisons we have and can talk with to and help if there’s a problem. So you can use the cliché that when people fall through the cracks they can call and we can try to help them. That is a large part of our responsibilities. But you have to be in your community to know what’s happening in your community. If you’re only in Lansing, you kind of lose touch with what’s happening at home. It’s one of the interesting parts of this job. I feel like I have two offices even though I don’t have a physical office in the district. My office there is the senior centers I go to, the local schools I visit and the classes I read books to, etc.
Sarah: Do you hold some type of “coffee hours” within the district?
Rep. LaVoy: Yes, I call it “district outreach.” I do that relatively frequently. The most popular issues talked about, and I was just at one of these events last week, was of course the road funding proposal. In addition, you definitely have to interface. It’s not just through social media, especially Facebook, although we have used it a lot for this road funding issue and received many interesting responses.
Sarah: Well the issue itself is interesting, don’t you think?
Rep. LaVoy: Yes it is. And the possible solution for it.
Sarah: And how it’s being framed as well. But I guess that’s just politics.
Rep. LaVoy: Yes, I’ve seen a lot of focus on the issue and it will be interesting to see how it progresses.
Sarah: Moving on before we go off on a road issue tangent, what would you say your biggest success(es) has/have been in office?
Rep. LaVoy: I think I’m finally starting to learn the system. Remember, I’ve never held an elected position before this for anything.
Sarah: And when did you start in this position?
Rep. LaVoy: 2012 was my first term. Re-elected in ’14 for the second of three terms I can hold in the House should I win the other election in ‘16.
Sarah: Okay, so back to successes. You’ve said that you have learned how the system works.
Rep. LaVoy: I’d say so. And I would say, you know, I hate to hang my head because I haven’t gotten any Public Acts passed. That’s not unique when you’re of the minority party and a new representative. When you look at it, it’s always harder to get things passed when you’re not of the party that’s in control. And I don’t want to dwell on that too much because that’s part of the system. I’m not faulting it or giving it as an excuse, it’s just one of those things. You start to learn how to get things done after you’ve been here for a while, regardless of your partisanship. I should have something passed this term for sure. It just depends on “what” and “how much.” And it also depends on appropriations, having money brought to your district- if you can do that. We’re looking at several things. This year I don’t have any appropriations. I had one that was taken over by someone else. The other thing that was interesting about my position was that, and again it’s not an excuse, but my senator was the senate majority leader and a member of the opposite party. So sometimes that can be a bit of an impediment to getting things done. Although I’m a rep, political things sometimes still get in the way. But I always do constituent services. I take pride in the fact that we really try to help people with things, whether it’s just unemployment stuff, even just being intermediary- passing information on to other state departments or even federal departments. We’ve had requests for help for disabled veterans. Recently we had a successful case with that. So being the liaison to Michigan’s two senators or Congressman Walberg and relaying information we receive to them because sometimes people don’t realize the difference between state and federal realms.
Sarah: Do you think the information gets lost once you pass on the information to the higher level? Or maybe the urgency of the situation gets lost because of how much goes on at the top?
Rep. LaVoy: I think a little bit, yes, because the job gets more complex with the more people you represent. So obviously, congressional districts vary in size at the state and federal level. Representing more people means you have to listen more. There’s a higher chance of people having problems. There are going to be more people that need help, more people that want to express their opinions, more information to help you make decisions not only on legislation, but on the day-to-day things as well.
Sarah: How about your tactics to influence policy. I know you haven’t been in office too long and you’ve just sort of reached the point where you’re comfortable with the system and how it works. Besides networking, what would you say has been most helpful?
Rep. LaVoy: I think you have to listen more than you talk, and that’s hard to do as an elected representative because often people expect us to give speeches and invite us to give speeches and hand us microphones and the media’s more likely to listen to us because we’re decision-makers. I try to be shorter with a lot of my public speeches because after a while you lose the audience to either lack of interest, and nowadays, there are more daily interruptions in people’s lives.
Sarah: Have your opinions of state politics changed since you’ve been in office? I know that since I’ve been introduced to Michigan politics, I’ve taken a greater interest in what is happening where I live and the people that are making those decisions on my behalf.
Rep. LaVoy: Yes, it has changed, although I had an idea because anytime you have the human element in things, individuality plays a part in how things work. When you have a majority versus minority structure, it’s still the “tyranny of the majority” that plays a huge role- and it’s the power structure of Lansing as well as in the federal government. Committee chairs have the power over minority chairs and vice chairs. You’re not going to be Chair of a committee unless you’re of the majority party; you’re not going to be Speaker of the House unless you’re of the majority party. You’re not going to be governor unless you’re elected. It’s the whole power structure that’s rooted in politics. I knew that, and I think there are still ways to do things and to get along with people of the other party. I just read an interesting Pew research poll this morning that stated that there are more independents in the country now than there have been in a long time.
Sarah: You mean more people that identify as independents, right?
Rep. LaVoy: Yes, and you’re right, that identify as independents- there is a difference. And then they went into the “lean democrat” and “lean republican” aspect.
Sarah: Yes, I think most say they’re independent but end up leaning left.
Rep. LaVoy: Or leaning right, too. And there were more democrats in this report, which I thought was pretty interesting. Although to me I’m not surprised because I wasn’t initially of one party or the other. I was more in the middle with a lot, it just depended on the issues. I was more issue driven than I was party-platform driven, and that’s interesting to look at what the parties do in response. Although I would say that at no time would I ever have said that I didn’t at least lean democrat, even as an independent. It was my party.
Sarah: So you do fit right in with those statistics. But many people are in the same boat as you.
Rep. LaVoy: I think I do. But I don’t see a way to do a third party, a liable third party. It’s the way this country was set up- we aren’t set up like a parliamentary system like other countries have. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon, nor am I sure if it’s a better way to go. For stability of government, it’s good to have to build coalitions outside of your political party, and you can do that here. You see it with caucuses. So we have the sportsman’s caucus, the auto caucus…
Sarah: Is there a Democratic caucus in the House?
Rep. LaVoy: Yes, we have a caucus. That’s how we meet, that’s how we speak. But that’s the filter. I’ve never been into the republican caucus. When they’re discussing issues, it’s only republicans in there. When we’re discussing issues on our side, and there are designated rooms to do so, you usually aren’t invited into the other room. That’s the way it goes. Now, the governor is. We’ve had, in our Dem caucus, the governor speak with us. Just before break, we spoke about the merger between DCH and DHS and he wanted our input on it. It depends, but we have to invite the person in. But that’s how it works. It’s private discussion on policy issues more than anything, and developing strategy which may involve politics, to get to the goal of whatever those policy issues are.
Sarah: Since Senator and previous Senate Majority Leader Richardville was on the other side of the aisle, what sort of dynamic did that create in your district since your districts overlapped?
Rep. LaVoy: I think it showed that the Monroe as well as the Wayne county parts of my district- with the redistricting, I got two pieces that were previously held by republicans- could go either way. You could make the argument that I got the more democratic leaning part of Monroe but the Wayne County parts have kind of gone either way as well. Flat Rock and Rockwood have gone either way. If you believe base numbers, Monroe County as a whole has voted for both republican and democratic presidents. It was no surprise that the state senator was a republican and the rep a democrat. It’s never been one single party for an extended amount of time. Senator Richardville was in his last two years and I was in my first two. I put a few things out there in bills and he sort of picked them up, but I got the idea that one way for me to help with policy issues is to put the issue out there and someone might pick it up and put it in a bill.
Sarah: What sort of goals do you have for this term?
Rep. LaVoy: Continuing to try to help people interface with government. You always have to do that or you’re not doing your job. We are a full time legislature and some would prefer us not to be, but I would make the argument that I don’t plan on being in elected office for all of my life- I wasn’t in it before I got here. I would say constituent services and seeing some policy go through would be an obvious goal. Voting allows me to participate in the political process, and that gains the attention of other members.
Sarah: What about goals within your committees?
Rep. LaVoy: Energy policy is a huge one right now. Trying to figure out the best, as you know, DTE has two major power generation assets in the 17th House District that I represent and I would say to keep that investment in Michigan as well as the jobs it provides, and to expand them is a big priority for me. We’re trying to set good energy policy for 20 years down the road. Policy that helps people get electricity and natural gas on the basis of responsible energy legislation. Promoting the affordability and reliability of energy for the State of Michigan is essential.
Sarah: Well, I’d like to thank you for taking the time out of your day to answer a few of my questions. I appreciate it.
Rep. LaVoy: No problem, anytime.