Five new members of Michigan's congressional delegation were sworn into office today: Democrats Debbie Dingell and Brenda Lawrence, and Republicans Dave Trott, Mike Bishop and John Moolenaar.
We spoke with Dingell about how she’ll differ from her husband, the longest-serving member of Congress in history, John Dingell; how Michigan will do now that giants like Dingell and Senator Carl Levin have retired; and how she wants to convince weary, skeptical voters that Michigan's five freshmen actually will be bipartisan.
Congresswoman, congratulations on your swearing in today. Tell us a little about how you hope your work will both continue – and be different from – your husband’s legacy?
"Well first of all, I am a different person than John Dingell. I’m not trying to fill his shoes because I know how big they are, and nobody can fill them. I’m very lucky to have been mentored by one of the giants of Congress. But I’m very much my own person.
"I’ve had my own work experience, my own leadership positions that I’ve played that I’m going to bring to serving the people of the 12th District and the people of Michigan. I worked for the auto industry for more than 30 years at GM, then I chaired a group focused on manufacturing.
"And I’m very close to both business and labor. I really believe that people in this country are tired of people fighting. They’re tired of the partisan bickering. And I’m someone who has, in Michigan, worked long and hard on a variety of different projects to bring people together.
"Right now the challenge for us in Michigan is to show people how competitive we are. It’s to bring manufacturing back more to the state of Michigan, get people to invest in Michigan, build plants and create jobs. And I think business and labor have to do that together, and I want to help be a part of this. "
You’re coming into this job as so many of Michigan’s heavyweights are leaving DC. When we think about whether Michigan’s auto bailout might have even existed without your husband or Levin or other members, you wonder how different Michigan might be without them. What happens now going forward without them, and how does it affect the job you have to do?
"Well, all four who are leaving, not only John Dingell and Carl Levin but David Camp and Mike Rogers, were not only great men but true leaders. So there are holes.
"I think that as a freshman member I’m very realistic about who and what a freshman member is. But I think the five of us understand that, and really want to work together and learn together and listen to ideas.
"We may not always agree with each other, but we know as a coalition we can work effectively together for the people of Michigan and are very much going to try to do that. We’ve already pledged to go to each other’s districts, we’re going to start Monday at the car show and then meet with Dan Gilbert on the city of Detroit. "
In your campaign you’ve talked a lot about your willingness to cross the aisle and work with moderate Republicans. And right now there’s a lot of skepticism that even if the willingness is there, that we’d actually see real bipartisan action in the days ahead. Can you talk about a specific issue where you think you might be able to get some bipartisan traction?
"Candice Miller and I are looking at, and I’m the junior person there, at working on Great Lakes legislation together and co-sponsoring something that will shortly be introduced.
"But there are a variety of different subjects from manufacturing to the auto industry. I can think about 20 subjects that are quickly in my head. I think people like to fan the fires of dissension as well.
"I think one of the big problems today is that people don’t know each other. I think it’s a societal problem. Kids don’t talk to each other, everybody texts, they don’t have real relationships and dialogues. If you don’t know somebody you can’t build relationships and you can’t build trust.
"One of my goals and focuses is to work on developing those relationships so people trust each other and can work together and can learn together and find ways to compromise. "