Political and Personal Accountability
Air Date: September 7, 2020
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HEFFNER: I’m Alexander Hefner. Your host on the open mind, I’m honored to welcome former Congresswoman Katie Hill to our broadcast. Today. She is author of “She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality.” Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining me today.
HILL: Thanks for having me Alexander, glad to be here.
HEFFNER: In the time that you’ve had to reflect since writing this book, but also since your resignation from Congress, what has been most meaningful in your reflection or introspection that you want to impart to our viewers today?
HILL: Really what it boils down to for me is that the work that my campaign was built on, the mission of the campaign, what I did in Congress, none of that is over just because I left, and the work is that much more important and it has to continue. And what I truly believe is that, you know, as far as it goes, as far as achieving true equality goes, the only way we’re going to be able to do that is by getting real equal representation and electing women is the way to do that. So, you know, my mission now is if I’m not going to be in the, you know, the halls of power, then I need to help make sure that other women can get there and have their voices heard and, you know, are focusing on the issues that are going to bring us to the place in society that I think we need to be in.
HEFFNER: You may not want to relitigate this and if not, I completely respect it, but you should be in those halls still. I mean, that’s, that reads throughout your moving account of what happened. Do you feel that way?
HEFFNER: It was times that I feel that way, certainly. I think part of this whole reflection process has been that you can’t go backwards and, you know, if I am forced to decide whether I regret the decision to resign or not, I don’t regret it. I think it was the right thing to do at the time, the right thing for me personally, but also for my colleagues also, you know, for the country as we were going into impeachment, I didn’t want to be the person who was causing this distraction when I thought we had so much more important things to be focusing on. And I certainly didn’t want to be a liability to, especially my freshman colleagues who were running for reelection in these really tough seats. You know, I was the freshman representative to leadership. I didn’t want to put people in the position of having to choose whether to support me as their friend and colleague or have to throw me under the bus to, you know, to be able to stand up to the criticism that’s going to be coming. And I also didn’t want to be a hypocrite. I didn’t want to be somebody who’s saying, you know, Brett Kavanaugh shouldn’t be on the Supreme Court, but when it comes to my own, you know, the relationship that I had with a former staffer, I felt like if I held myself to the highest possible standard, if I said, okay, this is the consequence, I need to step down, then there’s not going to be that room for hypocrisy. There’s at least, you know, at least there’s that kind of clarity on the expectation and knowing that there is a gray area, I think we all can recognize that there’s a gray area that exists within all of these, you know, Me Too incidents, like there’s well, I should, I should take that back. There’s a, there’s a gray area that exists within the bounds of what is black and white, a, you know, a perfect relationship and what is reality. People meet people at work and that’s just how it goes. But an abuse of power is something that we have to be incredibly careful with. And in this time when we’re having this reckoning around it I didn’t want to muddy the waters. So, you know, I think, I think I do feel like my situation was different from, you know, a 60 year old Senator who’s been in a position of power for his whole adult life with a 20 year old intern. But nonetheless, you know, I took that power away from our opponents, our political opponents by not giving them that option
HEFFNER: When it comes to the double standards, how do you think we should optimally navigate that?
HILL: Hmm. Well, I think there’s two things. The first is we really need to be intentional about when we’re looking at something, if we’re holding a woman to a standard asking ourselves, is that the same standard we would hold a man to? We’re even seeing this play out with the vice presidential process, right, of saying, you know, these women are too ambitious or that she didn’t apologize. And the reality is that you don’t hear that if you’re talking about a male candidate, you do not hear somebody say a guy is ever too ambitious. That’s just not a thing. Just like you never hear someone say that a guy is bossy. Those are not; those are not words in the vocabulary when you’re describing men as opposed to women. And I think that the same thing goes when it, when you talk about screwing up, women are, are kind of, if you get to a position of power, you pretty much have to be; you have to be perfect. And I think this younger generation mine included you know, you’re a Millennial too, as, as we rise up and take these positions of power, our whole lives have been kind of documented by social media and by you know, the, the lives that we’ve led, through photos and, and everything like that. And I think that we’re going to have to have a reckoning that, you know, people across the board are not perfect. And it doesn’t matter if they’re a man or a woman and you know, what does that mean?
HEFFNER: How about the difference between personal and political corruption?
HILL: Right, right. Well,
HEFFNER: Yeah. I mean, you know, an individual relationship or, or a relationship triangle, if you will, is very different from denying hospitals protective equipment, because they’re in Democratically led districts.
HILL: Yeah. Or selling stocks and know that it’s going to be worse than, you know, you got, you got intelligence that the epidemic is going to be worse than you’re playing it out to be with your constituents. And, you know, we’ve got several senators, including Kelly Loeffler who are in that kind of boat, so yeah,
HEFFNER: And that’s not a gender differentiation, that’s personal versus political on some level, right?
HILL: And, you know, I certainly hope that we can all look at our own lives in terms of relationships, in terms of our sex lives, in terms of whatever piece of it that we want to have kept private, and know that that is not, that is not, and should not be relevant to the way that somebody is going to govern, but what is relevant to it is, are they taking bribes? Are they making decisions that are based in personal interest as opposed to in the interest of their community or their constituents or the country, and that kind of corruption to me shows just on the very face of it. So, you know, I, I believe that my resignation really kind of upset a lot of people enough that I hope that this is a, this is a, you know, a moment of awakening where you know, when we, when we say we’re holding people accountable, what is it about? And you know,
HEFFNER: Well, no, you had more than one Republican ally in defending you during these tumultuous days when the reporting on your personal life and relationships was exposed. Do you find those bedfellows, those strange bedfellows when it comes to the question of political corruption too? Or do they just want their personal lives not to be in the spotlight?
HILL: No. I think that it is in terms of, I mean, Matt Gaetz is the one that comes up all the time. He’s, and actually the documentary that’s just coming out that follows him, and I’m, I’m in a scene in it it’s called The Swamp, it’s an HBO documentary. He is the first Republican that in the House that said that he’s not going to take corporate PAC money. And, you know, that’s significant that’s to me that was either 60 plus Democrats in the house now that have said that, including, you know, I was one of them in the freshman class. That’s how we pass HR1 which is this huge reform package that makes it that if it passes, you know, the House again next year, hopefully the Senate, and it can be signed into law. I mean it would truly reform democracy. It would make it so much more possible for regular people to get elected for, you know the people to have power, not have gerrymandering, have actual access to voting and to get the influence of corporate money out of politics, or at least drastically reduce it. So yes, but I would say that it is certainly far, far more of a priority on the Democratic side than on the Republican side.
HEFFNER: Is he the only Republican in the House who has taken that pledge
HILL: Yup. Yup.
HEFFNER: So, there’s 60 new Democrats and many other Democrats, too.
HILL: Most of the, the Democrats that kind of started that were in the freshmen class. So I think I think before the freshman class, it was like four or five Democrats, and then the freshman class came in and it moved up to like 60. And then I think other people have started to take that pledge because, you know, kind of the ball has been rolling and the momentum has struck and also the freshmen were some of the best raising fundraising people. Including me, I was one of the, always one of the top fundraisers and it wasn’t because of corporate money. So I think once, you know, once you show that the dynamic can change, you don’t have to be dependent on these corporations to be able to bring in the kind of resources that are necessary to run a campaign. And in doing so you can say, I am solely responsible to my constituents. I’m not responsible to, you know, H and R Block or AT & T or, you know, Boeing, right? So I think that that makes a big deal. So it makes it a big difference to people, to voters. And I think that you’re going to continue to see that spread as far as an expectation of our lawmakers, which is it’s transformative in terms of how Washington works and how lobbying works. And I don’t think that this city is even really prepared for what it means if that, that trend becomes more widespread. And it’s going to be/
HEFFNER: I do want to ask you more about your district in the context of 2020, on the subject of the book and the anecdotes you reveal in your story, do you take a historical view of it, Congresswoman, in thinking about the personal relationships of JFK and FDR and they sustained us as a country through the Great Depression and World War Two and the Cuban Missile Crisis. And we know from the reporting, historically that their personal lives were complicated and their relationships were complicated, including infidelity, including blurring the lines that are now exposed in every media outlet that wants to do that, out you and, and so I just want to ask on that front, is there any way you see us resetting to be more responsible and understanding that if you can prevent war, if you can save lives during a pandemic, that’s of utmost constitutional value, not who you’re sleeping with, as long as of course it is done in, in a way that is consensual.
HILL: Right. Right. Well, I think we saw, you know, just in terms of politics and how, you know, how we look at people’s personal lives, there was a point when all of that changed, when it used to be, you didn’t talk about those kinds of things.
HILL: I feel like a lot of people have said that Gary Hart was kind of the turning point, one affair really ruined his chances, I don’t know if that was the moment, but we know that there became this kind of fascination, almost like we have with the celebrities, of the inner lives, the personal lives of politicians. And I think that, you know, I’m, I’m really the first woman of a, of a high level or a high degree of visibility when it comes to politics that has been embroiled in this kind of a scandal, at least on the side of the person in power, right? Women have been embroiled in the scandals, but they weren’t the ones who, who were ousted, right. Monica Lewinsky, and bill Clinton there, the dynamics are reversed, except in that case, Monica Lewinsky, who now would be considered the victim in any other kind of, yeah, if it were, if it were happening now, she would absolutely be the victim, but she was seen as that is the absolute enemy and was completely belittled and ousted from, you know, from Washington and from, she had to disappear from public life for a long time. But yeah, I think, I think that just generally speaking, it’s, it’s going to have to be a choice that we make of saying if we want more normal people in politics, people who have not spent their entire lives you know, preparing to enter the spotlight, people who can’t afford, you know, fixers to hide all of this stuff, people who frankly are just, you, know like all of us, right. Then do we, what do we value more? Do we value their competency? Do we value their leadership skills or do, and how much does it matter that personal lives are messy? And can we acknowledge that you’re electing somebody not to be perfect, but to do a good job. And …No, I was just going to say, and I hope, I hope that maybe my, you know, the, the, what happened to me is, can be a lesson, as far as that goes.
HEFFNER: And what about the lesson of the Governor of Virginia versus the person who was the senior Senator from Minnesota? I appreciate what you said about not wanting to be a thorn in the side of the Democrats who were pivotal in restoring accountability in 2018 and want to ensure that that accountability continues to exist. And that was a selfless act to your colleagues and, but reflecting on the trials and tribulations of, of Governor Northam and Senator Franken, and it seems like the way to reset was to own up to it and try to keep on doing the people’s business, at least from the perspective of Governor Northam, he seems to have succeeded in doing that in a way that was until his case, unexpected.
HILL: Yeah. Yeah. I think that, you know that takes, and I’ve said this in conversations with other people too, if I were not a freshman, if I weren’t, you know, 32 years old, 30, what was I, I guess when it happened I was already 33, but yeah, if this weren’t my first run at elected office, if I had kind of decades behind me already of this experience where I could, you know, and if I didn’t have a vengeful spouse, a right-wing media, and you know, my political opponents who were trying to use all of this against me, it might’ve been a different story, right? The governor was already in there for a four-year term. He’s
HEFFNER: Right. And he’s a man. I mean that’s your point? There’s a gender piece of it.
HILL: Because you can say, you know what, my track record speaks for itself. I’m not a, you know, however he decided to phrase it he’s if he didn’t think that his shenanigans, I don’t even, I don’t remember what he said. I know what everything he said. And you’re like, how is he going to survive this? And then, and he did. And you know, I think, I think there is definitely a possibility if I just waited it out, I could have, but the personal toll that that was taking which I, you know, I obviously talk about a lot in the book was it was, it was so much for my family and for my staff and, and again, for my colleagues and I just
HEFFNER: And for your district.
HILL: And for the district, right. And that’s, you know, it was, it was a huge disappointment that flipped back to Republican, but I feel, I feel pretty confident that that was because it was a special election and people were it was the first all mail election because of COVID that we really saw certainly in California and one of the only ones across the country to that point was in May. And it was, I think we’re going to still, we’re going to see it flip back to blue and in November. But it, you know, I think that this is, this is, I felt this responsibility to the people who, to not be a distraction and to be able to, you know, to have the person who went into represent them. And it’s not the one that I was hoping for, but to be able to truly focus on serving the community and not you know, not on this distraction that I was part of.
HEFFNER: Let me ask you about your district and also Katie Hill’s district and those districts as representative of the shift. It’s been called the Orange County shift in, in some measure, but how similar or dissimilar is it from those suburban districts, sometimes even rural districts in places like Iowa and Wisconsin that turned blue.
HILL: Yeah. That mine was one of those exact districts, right, it had been held by a Republican for decades. It was shifting where, you know, more and more people were kind of moving into the suburban communities that were younger, more liberal. It was diversifying pretty significantly. And, you know, the turning point was that Hillary Clinton had won the district by a significant margin, even though the Republican had won the district. So, you know, if you’re looking at trends, it’s just steadily increasing in, you know, the percentage of people who identify as Democratic, and you’re seeing that across the country. And I think that Trump has, has really you know made that happen faster, you know, accelerated that change. And so I think that my district is really emblematic of it, but it also shows you because of how mine flipped back, that that hold that we have is not, it’s not rock, you know, rock solid. These are as frontliners as people who were, who had flipped those districts and who’ve had tough, reelections coming up we would often talk about how you don’t own this seat. You’re leasing it. And, you know, you can be, you can be pretty easily evicted if we’re not, if we’re not careful and there’s no playbook for this. We don’t know, you know, impeachment was the thing that everyone was scared of at, you know, at one point, right. It seemed like if we were going to impeach the president that could have been political suicide. Now, I don’t think anyone’s even going to remember that come Election Day. What’s going to be, I think it’s going to be about COVID and it’s going to be you know, that, like, if you’ve got these districts, some of my colleagues are from these districts where Trump won by 15 points before and where he probably will win again, what’s going to happen to them. We don’t know yet. And I think, you know, that was really something that weighed heavily on my mind when I decided to resign was, are they, you know, as they’re going out and campaigning, are they going to be asked the question of like, well, do you support your colleague Katie Hill? Do you, you know, what do you think about what she did, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I just, you know, I didn’t want to have, I didn’t want them to have to answer that. And in any way kind of factor into whether they won or not.
HEFFNER: And with respect to Orange County and with respect to your district and Congresswoman Porter’s districts, you don’t think of the suburbs of Pennsylvania or Michigan necessarily when you think of Orange County?
HILL: No, I do. I think that, of course they’re different. Right. But I think that there it’s the same dynamic, it’s the same, same kind of trends in terms of diversification, in terms of, you know, people who, who might be leaving the cities for one reason or another. And it’s not just your, your upper middle class, white folks anymore. It’s, they’re, they’re much more diverse communities and that’s what makes them ripe for changing over to these things
HEFFNER: And pre COVID. What would you say was the most prominent explanation of a voter that had shifted from voting for Trump and the Republican incumbent in ‘16 to voting for you in ‘18? And then, and then tell me about post COVID?
HILL: Yeah, I mean, I think the really big factors in ‘20, from 2018 or from 2016 to 2018 I think the biggest one was around healthcare and around how the Republicans in Congress were, you know, we’re ready to totally take away the ACA and not have anything to back it up. And frankly, if McCain hadn’t been there, it’s just like what, you know, we all saw that as, as a very, that’s what motivated so many people to even run, so many people from my class to even run. And just this general sense that the Republicans in Congress were going to rubber stamp anything that Trump wanted to do. And were putting the interests like big corporations, including in the Trump tax plan that they passed right before we took over. Well, right before the elections, was, you know, it’s clearly not helping their constituents. It’s helping the people who are funding their campaigns. And so we were able to really kind of leverage that message, but I think the message that’s, that’s going to continue to be strong is we need leaders who are, who are accountable to regular people; who are regular people who are accountable to them who are going to fight for them. And, and right now to try and piece back together, the mess that is going to be left, right? We’re going to have the worst economy that we’ve had in, in, you know, probably close to a century at this point, right? And the, just the, the scope of the mess that’s going to be left by the Trump presidency is it’s, it’s pretty undescribable. And I don’t think people quite; I think people recognize that to a certain level. This is an election I think where people are looking for big, drastic changes. I think they’re really looking for calmness and restoration. And just trying to say like, Oh my God, we don’t have total. We don’t have to have total chaos.
HEFFNER: Let me ask you this final question? By the time this airs, we will likely know Vice President, Biden’s running mate, what would be your advice to that person? And that person may be a black woman. It may be a white woman, we don’t know, but what would be your advice to them?
HILL: My advice would be that again, really focusing on how we’re going to heal. And I don’t mean that in like the, the Meta you know, hippy dippy kind of sense. I just mean it in, like, what are the, what are the steps that it’s going to take for us to put things back together? And as the vice president, as somebody who’s part of, you know, who’s going to be both externally facing, but also operational, you know, what are the strengths that can be played into? What are the pieces that hopefully, I think an early conversation of, you know, Biden saying, okay, I’m picking, let’s just say it’s Senator Harris, and she’s going to be on point for, you know, our criminal justice plan that has obviously been so important over the last several months. Or, if you pick Elizabeth Warren that she’s going to be point on the economic recovery, if you pick Susan Rice, that she’s going to be point on rebuilding our status in the world and our, the global respect. So I think any one of these people has a great deal of,
HEFFNER: And in avoiding the misogyny and the double standards that you faced, how do you think they can each do that and maybe do that differently based on who they are?
HILL: I think it’s probably just going to be ignoring it, but all of these women have made it to high levels of political office and they already, you know, they already know that, they’ve been attacked with misogyny their whole lives and it, you know, running at the presidential level, like that’s the worst kind, right? But you know, I think, I think that, that they’ve got to be very prepared and they already are. They’re going to take huge hits for this, like the, if there’s not a lot to attack Biden on right now, and it doesn’t seem to be working right. The attacks that the Trump camp have been taking against Biden just don’t seem to be sticking because it’s like, you know, how do you call somebody old and use that when you’re the same age as him, and you clearly have something going on cognitively, but they are going to, they’re going to, they’re going to use the woman, whoever the woman is to create, like a villain, and to go after, especially somebody who’s already high-profile, whether it’s Elizabeth, Warren, Warren you know, with the whole Pocahontas thing, or just saying that she’s so far left and she’s, you know, bringing she’s going to bring Biden to the left, or if it’s, who even knows what it’s going to be. If it’s Kamala Harris, I know it’s going to be raced hinged as well. But I think that, I think that it’s just a matter of us on the democratic side saying we’re behind whoever this pick is, and we’re, we’re going to defend each of these aspects of it too.
HEFFNER: And you don’t think that should weigh into Biden’s calculus, the, the kind of the vilification, and he should pick the most qualified woman and who, whom he has that simpatico with that he says,
HILL: I don’t think you can ever predict exactly what’s going to happen with this vilification, right? You just don’t know what they’re going to latch onto and what’s going to stick. And also I think to try to predict it would, probably, you know, probably would be racist or it would be, it would be problematic in some way. So I think that,
HEFFNER: Well, those three women, you mentioned like you are all warriors and so they’re going to fight.
HILL: Yeah. And so, you know, I think any one of them would be great. They would do a fantastic job as VP. And so ultimately I do think it’s a good decision of who is going to best compliment you. Who’s going to be someone you can work with every single day and knowing, you know, Biden was in that role. And, and I think having been in that role, you know, what you’re looking for in a VP, yourself. I would imagine that he probably has a better sense of it than most people going into this office. So hopefully…
HEFFNER: Congresswoman, thank you so much for your time today, Katie Hill author of the new book, “She Will Rise” really appreciate your time today.
HILL: Thanks so much for having me.
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