Interview with Suzanna Shkreli

Suzanna Shkreli is an Assistant Prosecutor of the Child Protection Unit in Michigan. While prosecuting crimes of physical and sexual abuse committed against children, Suzanna aimed to do more than just prosecute those crimes, and had dreams of passing preventative legislation. In 2016, as one of 61 Obama endorsed candidates, she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives at the age of 29. Shkreli is a first generation American of Albanian origin, with her family immigrating from Montenegro in the 1970’s, she was born and raised in Michigan. In 2016 she would take the political stage by running for the U.S. House of Representatives to represent the 8th Congressional District of Michigan against Republican incumbent Mike Bishop. Shkreli received 39.2% of the vote in just four months of campaigning. Despite her loss to long-time incumbent, it hasn’t stopped her from serving her community and the youth that are affected by heinous crimes. Suzanna is a role model for youth in politics and a perfect candidate spotlight for YCA.

Q: As a younger individual in the political game, what did you find to be some of the advantages and disadvantages of your age in your House of Representatives race?

A: Running for Congress as a 29 year-old woman during the very divisive 2016 election posed some disadvantages. With Hillary at the top of the ticket, it was very clear that even the most experienced of female candidates would still be doubted in their abilities to govern. Being a younger woman, made it even more difficult. That extra layer of scrutiny exists with young women where it may not exist elsewhere. Additionally, I had never sought or served in public office, so I felt like an outsider most of the time, which I think in this political climate is an advantage. On the other hand, the advantages of being young heavily outweighed the disadvantages. Despite some who have the opinion that young candidates may lack life experience to effectively server, there are just as many people who are refreshed that young people want to run and serve their communities.
I truly believe that being a youthful candidate is a quality, and a natural advantage in creating excitement and momentum in a campaign. Young candidates are fun to support; we are inspiring because our passion shines through. We have hunger and clear vision of what we want to achieve. We are progressive, inclusive, and relatable.
On the trail, I was able to listen to many young students explain their concerns about affording college and graduate school. They also expressed how they wanted to stay in Michigan but feared they couldn’t find employment post-graduation. I spoke to young professionals who shared their frustration with me, they are worried because their student loans are just as or more expensive as their mortgage. We discussed how difficult it is to get our lives started and try to raise a family when we are living under a mountain of student debt. We talked about public loan forgiveness, and discussed potential legislation I could champion that would allow students to refinance their student loans. Additionally, as a sexual assault prosecutor, I was in a unique position to discuss my experiences with sexual assault culture and the ways we could advocate for prevention and encourage victims to come forward and report their assaults on college campuses.
My advice to young candidates is to embrace your youth, don’t try to hide from it, use it for the bright and refreshing quality that it is.  

Q: Although your race didn’t have the desired outcome, how did it feel to be able to garner the support of almost 150,000 people in your district? What do you attribute much of that success to?

A: Considering I only had four months to try and do what most candidates do in 18 months, it felt good that our message resonated with so many people in Michigan’s 8th District. Although we fell short, it was by far the most rewarding experience of my life and it has transformed me for the better. Even now, when I see voters out in the community they thank me for running and giving them hope. I won’t even try to describe how that feels to me.
I think we were able to garner so many votes not only because our message resonated so well, but we had such a groundswell of support and an incredible grassroots movement.  With tens of thousands of individual contributions, and thousands of volunteers who helped us knock doors and make calls, we were able to generate some incredible momentum that led to the endorsement of President Barack Obama – which will remain one of the proudest moments of my life.
Jumping into a race with only four months to run, was a bold move to make. I didn’t know what to expect and I received a lot of mix reactions. There were many naysayers, but I did not let them distract me. Some moments were harder than others, but I always remembered who and what this fight was for, and that was all I needed to refocus myself and keep on. I didn’t take on this race to make a name for myself. I ran to win, and that’s the only type of candidate and Representative that the people of Michigan’s 8th district deserve – someone to fight for them.

Q: Do you have any advice for young people, particularly young women, trying to get into politics?

A: Get in and run. Democracy is not a spectator sport, we owe it to ourselves and to each other to get in the fight to help shape a better tomorrow, and to stand up for ideas that are inclusive and will move this country forward. That can’t happen if we aren’t part of the conversation. As women, historically, it has been easier to find reasons why we shouldn’t run instead of focusing on the reasons why we should. We always tend to be hard on ourselves – it’s only when we know everything about everything that we feel truly ready to run. You’re ready to run now. No one is going to come knocking on your door telling you it’s time. If not now then when? Remember, when you do decide to run, you will have women across your communities, state, and the country helping you win.

Growing up, I remember giving a lot of reverence to public office, and in that respect, I placed people elected to public office on a pedestal. Becoming a Congresswoman was seemingly impossible in my mind. Usually, the elected officials I encountered were white males, and I never saw myself reflected in my representation. We need our next generation of girls and boys, of any race or creed growing up wanting to be Mayor, Judge, United States Senator, or even the President, and to truly believe that they can be just that.

Additionally, I want you to know that there were many times on the campaign trail where I felt blown away at the possibility that it could be me serving Michigan’s 8th District, and I always felt that I wouldn’t be lucky enough. Perhaps in a different year, I will be lucky enough, but what I find valuable in that type of thinking is that our Representatives should always carry within them a deep sense of humility in the positions they hold. They need to always feel grateful to be where they are, and to continually recognize that it’s not about them, the individual who is serving, but that it is about the people they serve.    

Q: Which of your platforms do you think most advocated for the next generation?

A: I campaigned heavily on college affordability. As a product of Michigan’s public schools and universities, I believe very strongly that not only must we provide access to quality education from pre-k until graduation, but we must make college and higher education more affordable for everyone who wants to earn a college degree.

I also fought to make community colleges and trade schools more accessible for those who want to improve their skills. I advocated for students to be able to refinance their student loans, so they can start their lives and invest in Michigan without drowning in debt. Additionally, I advocated for investment and full development in our renewable energy sources so we could move closer to full energy independence. This will make it more cost effective to make products here in Michigan. By utilizing new technology and reconfiguring our energy sources, our state can create new good-paying jobs and serve as an example on combatting climate change without sacrificing economic growth.

Shkreli is a true inspiration for young people interested in politics.  With only a few months she garnered 40% of voter support, received a presidential endorsement, and moved the needle forward on important youth issues. We wish Suzanna the best of luck in all of her future endeavors, thank her for her time and imparting wisdom, and look forward to seeing her back in the political arena in the near future.

Written by: Delaney Hellman, YCA Treasurer

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