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Eric Swalwell’s Work Ethic and Character: Right for the 15th Congressional District

July 16, 2012

I have chosen to endorse Eric Swalwell for Congress because of how diligently he is working to meet with and understand the concerns of the 15th Congressional District voters. I’m supporting Eric because the status quo in Washington clearly isn’t working. Eric takes nothing for granted and, unlike his opponent in this race, does not believe he is entitled to anything.

As I’ve learned more about Eric, I’ve found that his work ethic stems from his upbringing and life experience. Eric wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth and rather than complain about any disadvantage he faced, Eric worked harder to achieve his goals despite those disadvantages.

That’s what we need in our government, representatives who work hard for us, who earn our votes and who will collaborate with others to solve problems.

I believe Eric can be part of the solution and recently met with him to learn more about his upbringing, and to explore his views on the federal government’s role in education. You were the first person in your family to attend college, and had to fund your way through school. How did you make your college dream a reality?

Eric Swalwell – Varsity Soccer Captain 1999

Eric Swalwell: “I knew college was something I had to do. My parents didn’t go to college and it was their goal that I’d receive a college education. They instilled in me at a very young age the importance of hard work. At age 10 I had a paper route and I remember getting up early in the morning every day to fold up the newspapers, rubber band them and fill-up a bag strapped to my bike. My mom always had to rush me along – she’d find me sitting cross-legged on the porch reading the newspaper instead of folding them like I was supposed to. I remember always wanting to read the paper, to learn more.

“I always played sports as a kid and learned that the values of teamwork and hard work also applied with sports. In my freshman year of high school I started playing soccer after being cut from the All-Star Little League team. I was crushed at the time – I loved baseball and back then if you made the All-Star team you’d move on to the JV baseball team in high school. Baseball was going to be my path to college.

“As a freshman at Dublin High School I joined the junior varsity team as a goalkeeper. I had a mentor at Dublin High, Class of 1998 graduate Chris Doyle, who was a goalkeeper on the varsity team. I always looked up to Chris – he was so focused, he knew he wanted to go to college and that soccer was the ticket for him. I saw he benefited from private lessons so I took jobs to pay for private coaches so that I could train one-on-one.

“I remember working after school in a window frame store for two years sanding window frames for hours and hours, working in the back of a warehouse with a mask and goggles. I’d take the money I’d earned and pay for private lessons. I continued to progress until I ultimately made the varsity team at Dublin High, watching Chris Doyle working hard, and playing hard, and getting noticed by colleges. When Chris graduated, I was a senior and the starting goalkeeper, made first team all-league and was the team MVP and captain.

“My goal was to play Division I soccer but I knew my parents couldn’t afford it, and that I’d have to earn a scholarship. The school I landed on was Campbell University, a small Division I school in North Carolina, where I earned both an athletic and an academic scholarship. I played soccer for two years at Campbell, and was able to play against powerhouses like Duke, and started to think about post-college and playing soccer professionally.” How did you end up moving away from soccer and becoming interested in public service?

Swalwell: “In my sophomore year I was injured – I broke both thumbs. I was still playing, strapped up in casts, but it wasn’t comfortable anymore, I could tell I was affected by the injury. Every catch made me grimace. As a hedge I applied for an internship the summer of 2001 to work in Washington, D.C. A Dublin High classmate, Chris Michel, was attending Yale and was also going to be interning in Washington. I applied for and was offered an unpaid internship in Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher’s office (who represented Dublin at the time). I ended up boarding at a fraternity house at the University of Maryland, a 20-minute Metro train ride away from the Capitol.

“Since the internship was unpaid, and my folks weren’t in a position to pay for me to live in Washington, I had to find a couple of jobs. There is a gym on Capitol Hill, the Members Gym in the Washington Sports Club, and all the members of Congress worked out there. I’d arrive at 5 in the morning in a gym outfit to check-in members of Congress as they arrived, rent out racket ball courts and hand out towels. At 8am I’d change into a suit and head out to the Congressional office where I worked as an intern, opening the mail, leading constituent tours, working on constituent issues that came up. In the evening I worked as a server at a Mexican Bar and Grill, serving members of Congress, until about 10pm and then I’d hop back on the train and head home.

“I loved it. Washington, D.C. has about 10,000 interns every summer and you get to meet so many people from all over the country, it’s a great experience. With that experience I had reached a crossroad. I realized that while soccer had been my ticket to college, it wasn’t going to be my destination. A woman in Congresswoman Tauscher’s office asked if I’d thought about applying to the University of Maryland as a transfer student. She recommended me and I was accepted there, and I stayed in the fraternity house for my junior year of college while continuing to work in Congresswoman Tauscher’s office.

“From there I got very involved in student government, I created a student representative position on the College Park City Council. I was the first student representative and now they are on their 10th student.

“After graduating from the University of Maryland I went straight on to law school, staying in the D.C. area, and then in 2005 came back to Dublin to work in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.” What have you learned from the experience of paying for your soccer lessons, paying your way through college and working to support a free internship?

Swalwell: “I learned to never stop working. Hard work will always be rewarded. Life’s not fair, not everyone starts at the same starting point. We should strive for that, having everyone start at the same place, but I realized other people would have better opportunities because of where they came from in life, and that the only way I could overcome those advantages was to work hard. I always felt I had to work a little bit harder.

“I’ve always felt that while I may never be the smartest person in the room or the most athletic that I can always be the most hard-working, the most responsive and the most open-minded. Going to Washington, D.C. was something new and ended up being the best decision of my life. Never close a door on anything, always remain open to new opportunities.” How have your experiences shaped your views on running for office?

Swalwell: “Earning my way into college and working my way through school have shaped my character. I’ve never taken anything for granted. Even today, I’m still working in the District Attorney’s office. I took a short, unpaid leave (from March to June) that I had to save up for. I dumped all of my savings into taking that leave, and learned a lot about sacrifice, so that I could campaign full-time. I learned that you have to give up something if you want to achieve a greater good. And now, here I am, running for Congress against a 40-year incumbent but during the day I’m sitting in a calendar court working just like everyone else. It’s shown me that no matter where I’m going I’m still the same guy who grew up in Dublin. It’s kept me grounded and in touch with the people I will hopefully represent.” What is your perspective on the state of education?

Swalwell: “I think the biggest challenge for education is do we want to fund it at a level where we will be competitive with our peers. I think our biggest global competitors right now are countries like China, India, South Korea, and even Brazil is becoming a major competitor. If you look at how we compare to our peers in reading, writing, math and science we’re right in the middle with first world countries.

“I’d like to see us slowly bring down the great imbalance between education funding and defense funding. I’m someone who will always be supportive of our armed forces, but do think the funding imbalance needs to change. It’s awful that many teachers receive pink slips every March only to find a couple of months later that they still have a job. We don’t treat any other profession like that.

“I think we should strive towards supporting more STEM education [science, technology, engineering and math] models and blended learning models that incorporate tablets and laptops, where you have the student working on their own at home on a tablet and then working interactively with the teacher at school.

“I also believe our teachers and administrators need to meet the standards we expect. I think we need to identify the teachers that are not performing and put them on a path to being proficient, and then if that’s not working we need to remove them. I don’t think we should be afraid of talking about how to bring teachers up to the best standards, because I think teachers themselves are saying they don’t have all the skills they need to teach the diverse group of kids in our classrooms.

“I’m a big proponent of increasing funding for education.” What is the proper role of the federal government in education?

Swalwell: “I think the role of the federal government in education is to strive for national success. We want to make sure all of our children are learning across the country. I do like the measuring of sub-groups in No Child Left Behind, to measure if different ethnicities or genders or regions of the country are learning at the same rate.

“Unfortunately, No Child Left Behind doesn’t provide the local funding required for the schools labeled as failing to make the improvements that are needed. If we are going to make progress we need to provide funding and allow major curriculum decisions to be made at the local level. I think the Bay Area’s regional needs are very different from Kern County’s regional needs.

“I also think we need to tie education into our economy, rather than thinking of these issues in silos. For example, I talk about finally striving for a green energy policy. We built the national transportation system under Eisenhower, where we laid thousands of miles of new highways, created jobs and connected America. It was a federal program that helped local communities. We should get our students involved in thinking critically about how we eliminate our dependence on foreign oil, and how we shift to wind, solar, fuel cells and other alternatives to oil. I think it’s something we should all be invested in, and we need to equip our children to compete in these new economies.” What would you bring to Washington that is specific to the 15th District?

Swalwell: “I want to be a leader in Congress on green energy policy because of the two national laboratories we have in the District, and their related facilities – the National Ignition Facility, the High Performance Computing Facility and the Combustion Research Facility at Sandia. Local researchers are working on a number of initiatives that pair up with i-GATE, the Innovation for Green Advanced Transportation Excellence. We have the infrastructure and some of the best brain power in the world living in the district. I believe our district can help solve some of the country’s biggest problems.

“Hayward, Fremont, Union City and San Lorenzo have very diverse populations, we have a diverse district. When it comes to immigration reform I strongly believe we need a carrot and a stick approach. As a prosecutor it frustrates the heck out of me that I’ve convicted, and my colleagues have convicted, a number of dangerous individuals who serve their time and then are released back into our communities. What I would do is first remove anyone who has committed and been convicted of serious offenses. Doing so would get rid of a lot of the troublemakers and those that the opponents to immigration reform use as a justification to build a 40-foot wall on our border.

“I don’t think we need to deport everyone. For people who want to work here, contribute to our economy, and pay into our healthcare system, I would like to see a pathway to citizenship and/or a pathway to working visas that would lead to citizenship. I believe I am well situated to help drive immigration reform given the diverse population in the 15th District and my experiences as a prosecutor.” According to multiple polls, the public’s approval of Congress is extremely low. What can you do to help change that perception?

Swalwell: “The approval rating of Congress is low – it’s about 8-10% – and when you take out the families and staff of members of Congress it’s probably even lower. I think I can bring a fresh start to Congress. We are all in this together. It serves no purpose for us to continue having these isolated positions. I do think I could be a bridge, working across the aisle on key issues, especially on key economic issues and job development. It’s not in my nature to dig in my heels and have an inflexible position. I don’t want to just spin my wheels and make a lot of noise. I want to move forward and produce results. I think we can only do that by working together.

“As I’ve said from the beginning of this campaign, the unemployment line in Hayward, San Ramon or Dublin is single file and draws no distinction between politic parties. People in that line, people who are struggling right now, don’t care who solves their problem. They just want a government that works, that doesn’t waste their money and is efficient. I want to deliver that government to the people.”

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