Candidate Spotlight: Ethan Petzold
All year long, we’re introducing you to our most creative and dedicated 2020 candidates in our new Candidate Spotlight!
Meet Ethan Petzold running for Michigan State House of Representatives in District 21. Raised in a middle class household that lived paycheck to paycheck and the product of public schools, Ethan plans to advocate for public education, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and and championing policies that lift up working families in Lansing. Learn more about Ethan below!!
Hi Ethan! Tell us, what inspired you to run for office?
As a child, I struggled with learning disabilities and was told that I wouldn’t even graduate high school, let alone go to college. I was able to beat the odds, achieve academically, and grow up to give back to my community by becoming a nonprofit professional and community organizer.
I’m a candidate for State Representative courtesy of public schools, public school teachers, and a state that used to invest more in its people. But Republicans in Lansing have disinvested in our schools and in policies that lift people up in exchange for corporate tax giveaways. I was inspired to run for something to ensure that my story isn’t locked in the past and every Michigander has the opportunity to reach their full potential!
What issue is most pressing in your community and how do you plan on remedying it?
Our local roads are in such poor condition that there was a bridge in my community that was closed for two years because it was unsafe to drive on. Every single day I have conversations about how bad a certain road is, voters tell me about the damage that a particular pothole did to their car, and I often share anecdotes about my cracked windshield or the time I blew out my tire on a local highway exit in the middle of the night because of a bad pothole. It’s no wonder that I hear choruses of the slogan popularized by Governor Gretchen Whitmer — “Fix the Damn Roads” — more often than anything else on the doors.
What’s surprised you the most about being a candidate?
I made a decision early on that the only way I could be true to myself in this campaign was to tell my personal story and run authentically no matter how it played out. I’m running as a young person, a community organizer and nonprofit professional, and somebody who grew up in a household that lived paycheck to paycheck. Furthermore, I choose to run because after struggling with learning disabilities as a kid, I beat the odds and wanted to make sure that everybody has the same opportunities to succeed that I did.
My candidate profile doesn’t match the description of people that usually run for office. I was worried that people wouldn’t vote for me because I was young. And I remember the feeling of being judged and assumptions being made about me as a child — and I worried that by telling my personal story, I might be opening myself up to people deciding not to vote for me regardless of my experience and track record.
I was surprised by the way that those “vulnerabilities” became my greatest strengths as a candidate. I was knocking on a door and a voter asked me, “Why would you want to go into politics?” Instead of launching into a cookie cutter speech, I told my personal story. I talked about the personal adversity my family and I had faced from economic security to educational opportunity and healthcare. This interaction was no longer a politician trying to convince a voter — it was a conversation about what we’d both gone through and how state government can make it better. From there on out, I knew that my decision to run authentically wasn’t going to be a liability. People won’t want to vote for a caricature of you, they want to vote for YOU!
As you’ve been meeting with voters in your community, what is something new that you learned?
I’ve learned that it’s really important to step outside the noise and the nonsense on social media. Most voters aren’t regularly thinking about the campaign between myself and my opponent so I can’t let the echo chamber of our social media pages — where the people commenting and sharing are often thinking about the campaign more than most voters — impact my view on how the campaign is going at any given moment. At the end of the day, voters will remember a personal conversation on the doors more than which candidate got more retweets on any given day.
If you could change one thing in politics today what would it be?
If there is one thing I could change in politics, I would change the influence that money has over our elections. I believe that our government works best when it’s reflective of our constituents but too often, qualified people that can bring voice to important issues choose not to run because they aren’t wealthy or their personal networks don’t include many people with the means to contribute large sums to their campaign.
What is one takeaway you’d like to leave your constituents with?
I’m running for State Representative to fight for the underdog: the people who are counted out but get back up, persevere, and are often left behind in Lansing.
I know what it’s like to need more support in school — and the difference that smaller class sizes and more investment can make. I know what it’s like for a family to worry about how to afford a medical procedure or the prescription drugs that a loved one needs to live. I know what it’s like to be an underdog and that’s why I’ve spent my entire career fighting to give families like ours a seat at the table. As State Representative, it’s these stories — and the stories I hear from people across our community — that I’ll bring voice to every day!
Final Question! What would you say to someone who is thinking about running for office someday?
If you have something to offer, don’t let anybody tell you that you’re “too young” or it’s not “your turn.” If you’re willing to work hard and are running for the right reasons, you should run and you can win!