Q&A with Gretchen Driskell
“Stretching into new roles and environments is a good thing. Being uncomfortable when you are doing something means you are really growing.”
Off the Sidelines: Tell us about yourself. Why did you decide to get off the sidelines and run for office?
Gretchen Driskell: I was born and raised in Port Washington, New York. I earned my Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from Lynchburg College and a Master’s of Business Administration degree from George Washington University. I worked as a CPA in D.C. for many years then moved to Michigan with my family in 1988.
As the grand-daughter and daughter of Navy Veterans, I grew up learning that we have an obligation to give back to our community and that the most valuable things in life are always worth standing up for. These lessons drove me to get involved in my new community, and ultimately run for Congress.
After moving to Michigan I worked as a community volunteer, where I chaired the fundraising effort to build the Saline Recreation Complex. In 1993, I was elected as a member of Saline’s City Council where I served for six years. I defeated the incumbent mayor in 1998 and became Saline’s first female and ultimately their longest serving mayor of 14 years. I also worked as a commercial realtor and served on the boards of the Michigan Municipal League, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, Ann Arbor SPARK, the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study, and the National League of Cities. I defeated an incumbent Republican and was elected as State Representative in the 52nd House District of Michigan in November of 2012. I served for two terms, 2013–2016. I sat on the Transportation, and Commerce Committee’s first term, and Agriculture, Elections and Ethics (minority chair), Communications and Technology Committees second term. I was also active in building the Progressive Women’s Caucus. All my work in public office was in an effort to make our community better. There is so much work to be done, the more I learn, the more need I see.
I recently finished my master’s degree in Public Administration at the University of Michigan’s Ford School where I focused my studies around rural poverty. I’m motivated to take what I learned and apply it to help the members of my community. We deserve someone who will work for all of us in Washington, someone who will fight for equal opportunity for all and work to address the extreme inequities in our society. I am the proud mother of three children and grandmother of two, and I want to do everything I can to make sure we are leaving behind a better world for them and all the rest of our children.
OTS: Tell us about where you’re running and what the district is like.
GD: I am running for office in Michigan’s 7th Congressional District, which spans seven counties. The 7th borders Lake Erie on the east, Ohio/Indiana on the south and stretches all the way north to westside of Lansing. The district is largely rural and has many beautiful inland lakes and natural areas, including the largest tract of publicly owned land in the lower peninsula. It is a reliably purple district, with President Obama winning it in 2008, and our Democratic Senators in 2012 and 2014. Our main industries are agriculture and manufacturing, and like much of Michigan, many of our communities have continued to struggle after the 2008 financial crisis. Over the past few years I have seen activism rise throughout the district, as frustration mounts over rising costs like healthcare & housing, partisan bickering in Washington, and a lack of good paying jobs in our state.
OTS: Whose support or encouragement are you most grateful for?
GD: Currently I am most grateful for the people I work with. They inspire me everyday and encourage me to see a better future because of their engagement. My mother taught me to work hard and not give up, and our whole team lives those values.
OTS: What one piece of advice would you give your younger self?
GD: Stretching into new roles/environments is a good thing (I’m an introvert). Being uncomfortable when you are doing something means you are really growing.
OTS: What issue do you believe deserves more attention on the campaign trail?
GD: We need more investment in our small businesses to help build local communities. Small towns across the country are shrinking due to lack of investment.
OTS: What’s an interesting book/article you’re reading now or you’ve recently finished? And why?
GD: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver. This fiction book intertwines issues that are facing our neighbors in a creative fashion and includes references to nature that I enjoyed. I am a big fan of the author and her past work.
OTS: What’s a fun fact that people may not know about you?
GD: I learned to fly a plane before I learned to drive a car.
OTS: If you could have dinner with three people (living or deceased) who would they be and why?
Eleanor Roosevelt; as a woman she was an amazing leader and communicator. She inspires me!
President Obama & Michelle Obama; They are kind, passionate, fun, and curious about the world.
OTS: How do you de-stress/unwind?
GD: I like to be out in nature, exercising or gardening. I also love to read.