Voters in Michigan’s 10th Congressional District have four candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot. WDET’s Pat Batcheller interviewed each of them. Click on the audio player to hear his conversation with Rep. Paul Mitchell, the Republican candidate. Mitchell was elected to the U.S. House in 2016. Here’s a transcript of the interview:
Pat Batcheller: As you’re coming to the end of your first term in Congress, what have you learned?
Paul Mitchell: I’ve learned you have to be persistent. You have to work every day to accomplish something. In contrast to private business, you can’t just decide and move. You’ve got to convince a whole lot of other people that it’s a priority. And there are in the House alone 435 opinions, plus 100 even stronger opinions in the Senate. So you have to develop a consensus on what an issue is and what the answer to the issue is, and then get people to work together. I did that in [my professional] career, it’s just the scale is different. But we’re getting things done in my opinion, and doing more than most people believe given the way national media has portrayed Congress as being almost like a cage match most days, which it really isn’t.
Pat Batcheller: Give me an example of where you have worked together across the aisle on bipartisan legislation that benefitted the 10th District specifically or Michigan as a whole.
Paul Mitchell: Let me give you a couple I think are important. I was a co-sponsor of and supporter of something called the “Stop School Violence Act,” which was to provide additional resources to states and communities to secure their schools better, to protect our kids. It was very much a bipartisan effort in the House and Senate. I was a co-sponsor of the bill and worked hard to make sure people understood what was in it and supported that. On an even more local level, I worked very closely with the governor’s office, with the (Macomb) county executive, Mark Hackel, the mayors of Warren and Sterling Heights to secure almost $90 million in federal funding to match with state and local money to rebuild Mound Road, a major rebuilding that is so desperately needed for that road. I’m told by the Department of Transportation it’s the largest single grant for a non-federal highway in the history of this country. The only way it happened was through a bipartisan effort, working with (Transportation) Secretary (Elaine) Chao, and then a conversation I had with President Trump as we drove to a rally in Washington Township about how bad Mound Rd. was. Those kind of efforts only happen when people decide to work together toward a common good to serve people. 81,000 cars a day go up and down Mound Rd., and it really is and has been a disaster. I met with Mark (Hackel) recently and we talked about the plans and how it’s going to phase out. So we’re still working together to get that done.
Pat Batcheller: What issue, as you seek re-election, is most important to you and why?
Paul Mitchell: I think there’s two issues we have to pay attention to. One is continuing to keep our nation secure. We put up a fair amount of money, as a variety of people believe, into national security. But we need to spend it the right way. Sometimes we spend—approximately 20 percent of the money goes to bureaucrats. I’m absolutely confident that’s not as efficient as it should be. It’s one of the reasons the chair asked me to join the House Armed Services Committee to work on that—to work on making sure we’re providing the best equipment and material to the men and women who protect our nation every day that they need given the circumstances we face, and they’re very real. That’s one priority. The other is, we need to deal with our infrastructure more effectively and more cooperatively with states and local municipalities. I’m on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. This last year, we got the FAA build-on, which is a big thing. And we got some improvements in air traffic control and a variety of other things done in that bill, even some things in terms of making sure they can’t make seat sizes smaller, and those types of things that affect us every day. Next thing I want to do, we need to do more to with rural infrastructure. In my district, rural infrastructure is critical. Rural broadband is a real limitation both for people who live there and economic development. But we also have issues with roads and water safety and water quality. That needs to be something we do with states and municipalities. It can’t be a federal-only effort. And that takes working to get a bill together that will encourage everybody and incentivize everybody to work together.
Pat Batcheller: When you meet voters in the district, what do they say to you? What do they want from you in Congress? What matters to them?
Paul Mitchell: What matters to them first—we talked about it a little before we started here—I ran a little differently when I ran two years ago. I talked about specific things I wanted to accomplish, I was going to focus on in my first term. What have you done about that? And we’ve talked about essentially is promises I made and what I’ve accomplished, which is most of what I said I would do. Then the question comes down to how we get things to what I would call a level of civility. Almost the entire freshman class signed on to what’s called the “civility pledge.” We developed this pledge that we would work civilly together to accomplish things. It’s easy to be civil with a friend, when someone agrees with you. It’s not so easy to be civil with someone you fundamentally disagree with and are saying things that sometimes even offend you. But that’s what’s most important.
Pat Batcheller: How’s that working out with you and your freshmen colleagues?
Paul Mitchell: Extraordinarily well. Extremely well. Nothing’s every perfect. These are people we’re talking about, right?
Pat Batcheller: Right.
Paul Mitchell: We’ve gotten more senior members to sign onto that civility pledge, recognizing that the tone sometimes that we talk—not so much on the floor as we talk to the public about—it just is really over the top. And I think the name-calling and some of that stuff isn’t productive for getting things accomplished. So a lot of the bills I’ve worked on have been bipartisan bills. The one that we signed into law was a bipartisan bill. I met with a Democrat, a freshman, my neighbor in the hallway in the office, where we worked on a series of bills together on transportation and infrastructure, because we thought these were important issues that we both cared about. A New Jersey Democrat and a Michigan Republican working on infrastructure bills.
Pat Batcheller: How often do you get back to the 10th District?
Paul Mitchell: Usually every weekend, unless it’s a very short week. If we run until late on Friday and we start up on Monday, it gets a little difficult. But almost every weekend, I’m home. And then obviously when we’re in recess. I don’t like to call it recess, because recess makes it sounds like we go out and play on the playground, on the jungle gym or something. We don’t do that—or parallel bars. We’re actually back talking with people in the district in meetings. When we do that, we’re home. And I think I’m roughly, in the term, around 200 different meetings I’ve conducted personally around the district in the time I’ve been home. The staff are well over 2,000 that have represented the office at when I can’t be here, which is a whole lot of the time. I’m told it’s the most intensive schedule that’s undertaken by the House of Representatives in a very long time. I know I’m new there, but that’s what they say.
Pat Batcheller: The reason I ask is because I’ve interviewed the other three candidates, and at least two of them have said you don’t go to town hall meetings, you’re not meeting with people, you’re not really representing the district. But you just said that you are back here on a fairly regular basis.
Paul Mitchell: Well, not only back here, but as I said, personally held over 200 meetings with a variety of groups who requested a meeting. You look at the people that have endorsed the campaign—all of the agricultural groups, which is a big sector of our economy in the 10th Congressional District. They’ve all endorsed me for re-election for a reason: because I am engaged with them. We can go through a list of police officers, in fact the Police Officers Association of Michigan has endorsed me. The Small Business Association has endorsed me. All the people that make up a big part of the 10th Congressional District believe that I do represent them well. And I think that’s the key question, “are you reflecting their concerns?” as I do my job in Washington. That’s what’s going on.
Pat Batcheller: You mentioned rural broadband and also agriculture. A lot of the 10th District is farmland. What concerns, if any, do you have about then impact that new tariffs may have on agriculture, the farming industry in the district?
Paul Mitchell: I think we see in the new deal the president’s put together—I’ve talked with Ambassador (U.S. Trade Representative Robert) Lighthizer—the one thing I’ll give him credit for is he’ll make those calls, I spent 45 minutes on with him on the phone, just the ambassador and I talking about the impact on agriculture and on manufacturing, steel and aluminum—we’ve made real gains with Mexico and Canada in terms of the agreement that’s rolled out, it appears. I haven’t seen every line of it. It’s pretty extensive, but I’ve seen the majority of it. It looks like it makes sense. My agriculture community is happy with the way the deal has worked out. We’ve got some things resolved with the milk issue we had with Canada, new markets in Canada, higher domestic content in auto parts, and also protected jobs by requiring that wage levels for a big part of the people producing those parts are $16 an hour or higher. So we’ve done some things that are meaningful in the agreement. We’re close to an agreement with Europe in terms of a trade agreement there that will open up some markets and take care of that. So I think on the whole, the ag community in particular is happy we’ve made progress. They also recognize that at some point in time, sooner than later, we had to address some real unfairness in our trade policies around the world. It makes people anxious, change does, but we’re getting there. And we’re getting there because of support for the president as he’s drawn some hard lines and said, “you know what, enough of this, we’re going to have a trade agreement that’s fair for everybody.”
Pat Batcheller: Our listeners have identified four issues that are of most importance to them in this election cycle—education, water, transportation, and gerrymandering. Let’s go back to transportation. You mentioned Mound Rd. What else could you do in the next term to improve transportation in the 10th District?
Paul Mitchell: I think we have to look at the broader infrastructure issues, not just transportation, which is a serious issue. We’ve got issues with railway access in the Thumb. The short-line railroads have some issues in terms of rail quality as well as the trains. We need to help them with financing they need to improve that. It’s available, it’s not used much. I don’t know why, frankly. We need to get into that. We need to have a comprehensive package, I think, that makes a distinction between rural and urban infrastructure because they’re different issues—we try to put them in one thing, it never works right—that provides incentives for communities to invest in their own infrastructure. This can’t be a federally-driven program. It needs to involve states, it needs to involve communities, like we did with Mound Rd., where everybody has a piece of the pie in making Mound Rd. a much better roadway. So, that’s my focus going forward, is a bill on that. Another one I think is value of discussing is, I’ve been working with a variety of groups on additional resources and the ability to fund and manage enhanced school resource officers. My oldest son is a police officer. He was a school resource officer for a couple of years. They rotate them, they don’t usually leave them there. To enhance that and fund more of them, because I believe they’re an important deterrent to violence in our schools. Not just mass violence you see in large-scale, but day-to-day stuff that goes on in schools, where one kid’s whacking on another one, bullying, and they’re in school and someone’s walking along and says, “hey, we don’t do that here, knock it off, guys.” Administrators and teachers have told me that we need them in the schools and we need to provide assistance for communities in doing that, again, to incentivize it, not to design it, not fully fund it, but incentivize that for states and local communities that want more school resource officers. Those are things I’m going to pay attention to as we go forward.
Pat Batcheller: I want to ask about school quality. How would you improve the quality of education?
Paul Mitchell: Well, I think we first improve it by—we’ve already passed one bill with additional funding for enhanced improving access to encourage technical education. I’ve not visited one employer in the community in over 21 months that hasn’t said they have a shortage of skilled personnel, from a welder to a heating-and-cooling tech, to—pick whatever you want to talk about. They just don’t exist. And it’s hurting our economy. It’s hurting economic growth. Unfortunately, we neglected that the last 20 years for some reason. We developed a mindset that you could only be successful if you went to college and then you had to get a graduate degree, and frankly, we all know that’s not true, but we’ve neglected it. So we put money as well as changes in federal policy to encourage states to invest in local communities to expand and encourage technical education options for young people. My view on education is the federal government’s role should be to enhance local education and provide choices for people, to let communities and states make choices they believe are best to educate their young people and not let the federal government do it. I believe No Child Left Behind was an unmitigated train wreck. We ended up educating children to pass a test. Not necessarily preparing them for life, but to theoretically pass this test. We need to go back to state and local control of education that the federal government simply supports, because we’re in the game now. We’re in the game and we need to do that.
Pat Batcheller: What can you do, what have you done in Congress, to protect our water? The Thumb is surrounded by water and now we have this emerging problem with chemicals known as PFAS. We’ve also had problems with lead in the water in Flint, in Detroit schools.
Paul Mitchell: Let’s talk about what we have done, and then what we do going forward. You’re absolutely right. The Great Lakes are a gem of ours. We identify it as a big part of our being. Water quality is critical to our health and well-being. One of the things I did early on when I got there, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative was threatened. I joined another bipartisan effort. We are going to keep that fully funded. Because that $300 million a year really helps to do a number of things—protect the ecosystem of the Great Lakes, projects in the district, projects around the Great Lakes. I got actively involved with efforts to get the Army Corps of Engineers to finally get off their backside and put out a report on how it is we improve the Brandon Road lock system [in Illinois] to avoid Asian carp coming into the Great Lakes. They were basically deep-sixing that because the state of Illinois was giving them grief. Believe it or not, we’re now at a stage when they released that report in February, the state of Illinois has agreed to put up 20 percent of the money to do what needs to be done. We managed to work, again, across the aisle with the state of Illinois. I managed to get an agreement that we’re going to deal with Brandon Rd. These are immediate kinds of things that we need to deal with. The chemical issues in our water has been an evolving one for a long time. As we see more of it, we’re getting different ideas or different indicators. We aren’t exactly sure even what the safe levels of some of these are, and they’re doing research on that, trying to figure out and identify the tolerable level of them. They come from a lot of sources. Industrial activity. Shoemaking, apparently, on the west side of the state, we had an issue over there. Some of our military facilities, or any firefighting facility that used firefighting equipment. I’ve been to Selfridge (Air National Guard Base), for example, twice, talking about what they’ve done about their PFAS issue. They’re spending a great deal of money in terms of identifying what the sources are and what they can do about it. More than about anybody in the state is right now, to be honest with you. They set aside money to do that at Selfridge, separate from everything else. And I’ve had conversations with the EPA about expediting what they’re doing to come up with a recommended level. We need to understand the problem and then protect the water. In the interim, we need to make sure people are drinking fresh water.
Pat Batcheller: The last issue listeners said they wanted to know more about was political redistricting, or gerrymandering. There’s a proposal on the ballot, Proposal 2, to change the system. Where do you stand on that?
Paul Mitchell: Here’s the interesting thing. If you look at the district highlighted by this group as being a gerrymandered district (the 14th Congressional District), it’s a district held by one of my colleagues who’s a Democrat. Let’s stop and process that. The people of the state elect people—state reps, state senators, the governor, and secretary of state—that then go through the process to determine what is an appropriate layout for representing the people of the state, given that you have to comply with numbers—they have to be equal (population) size, they have to be contiguous geographically. These are things that are required, as well as the Voting Rights Act in terms of making sure that you do not, by virtue of design, limit districts in terms of minority representation. When you do all those things, you get some interesting districts, but nothing that—if you look at the district they highlight—nothing that’s surprising given the current version of the laws. Look at California and what they did. They went to this commission kind of thing, and their districts out there look like salamanders. I mean, they didn’t achieve anything more rational than others. I’ll make one other comment. I have serious doubts that the proposal is constitutional when it’s implemented. I say that because, if you’re a precinct delegate or you’re involved in any way in any political party, your wife, your children are not eligible to serve on this commission that determines the districting. They’re losing their constitutional rights to be involved in part of the political process by virtue of something you did, even before the law went on the books in the (Michigan) constitution. That’s an interesting 14th Amendment argument that I think is going to take up some quality time in the Supreme Court. So, I don’t think it really improves our situation in this state or in this country and it’s going to take up time as they litigate it.
Pat Batcheller: We’ve seen gerrymandering done by Republicans, we’ve seen it done by Democrats, in Maryland for example. Should the lawmakers be drawing their districts?
Paul Mitchell: Anybody involved in this process has political biases. They do. The question is are we going to turn the districting of the state for this political process either to the people we elect to do that, or to people who are unaccountable, turn it over to a bunch of college professors and hope they’re less biased and more effective at it. The current system has served us well. Sometimes, it’s not perfect. Nothing ever is. God knows I’ve learned that in the 21 months I’ve been in Congress. I think there are fundamental problems with the approach that’s being taken. There may be other answers, but I haven’t spent a lot of time on it beyond that, frankly.
Pat Batcheller: What haven’t we talked about that you’d like to add?
Paul Mitchell: When we talked when I ran for Congress two years ago, I decided to run after being in private business for 35 years and retiring because I believed that, fundamentally, our country was going the wrong direction, that we needed to get more people in Washington that understood how the real world works, that had led businesses, or at least engaged in business, that understood our tax system and all the things involved, and the fact that our economy was stagnant, that we were trying to regulate our way to a better country. And in the process we were doing serious damage to what I call the American Dream. I grew up the oldest child of seven. My dad built trucks on the line at General Motors, and my mom worked at the Salvation Army. And only in America can you go from growing up relatively working class poor and end up a member of Congress. And we need to protect that for our future, and that’s why I ran. I think people got frustrated, were frustrated, because they saw opportunities for their children and grandchildren going away. And that is a very dangerous thing for our country when people give up because they don’t believe there’s an opportunity for young people. I think we’re in a better place than we were two years ago, and I’m going to continue working on that, because I think we can continue to make this country greater and stronger than it’s ever been.