Meet Congressman Eric Swalwell.
I never thought, and I bet most of my teachers in high school would be quite surprised to hear, that I’ve been elected to Congress. I started off playing sports as a kid and saw that as my path to college. No one in my family ever gone to college before so just getting the college was kind of a dream for me and my family. I played soccer in college. It was actually an injury in college while playing soccer that forced me to think about a world outside of sports.
I went to Capitol Hill in 2001. Worked there that summer and during that summer internship experience I found that I loved being at the center of the democracy for the free world that allows you to help people and make a difference in lives. I did come home and serve locally though. I served on a local arts commission and then a planning commission, worked as a prosecutor, and as a city council member and kind of inadvertently, unintentionally found this office. But, when I saw the opportunity to serve, I left through the window because the idea of serving all the people I grew up with and back in Washington DC where I first fell in love with public surface seemed quite worthy.
First you know it took an education. I knew I wanted to go to law school because my dad was a police officer and he always told me that he wanted me to also work in public safety but he didn’t want me to do the back-breaking work that he had to do was an officer. He wanted me to try to use my mind as he would always tell me because he actually had broken his back as a police officer and so he said go to school study to become a prosecutor and then you know work in the courtroom. So I focused like a laser on getting right to law school. I went right from college and then went right from law school to the district attorney’s office in Alameda County.
No, I don’t believe that to serve the public you have to necessarily go to law school you don’t even have to have a college degree. I think you need post-high school training, whether it’s a technical school vocational school or you know if you want to be a doctor going to medical school or studying and being able to teach others, you would need different graduate degrees. I believe just having a sense of the world outside of your own community is an education in and of itself and going away for college to the Washington DC area certainly, I think, gave me a better perspective.
I would first say don’t fix yourself on a certain seat. Rather, fix yourself on what problem can you solve. I think too many young people I’ve seen really focus and have a seat in mind or an office in mind and I think the danger there is that there’s no certain path to any of these offices. But, if you are too focused on an office if you don’t make it I think you could believe that you don’t have any capacity or way to serve when that’s not really the case. I think you should go find issues and problems challenges in the community and go out and take them on. And you’ll find that if you want to make a difference in education you know you could be on the school board, or you could be on a local commission that works on education, you can work in the nonprofit area, or you can even work for a corporation that does a lot of community work in education. Think about what problems you care about that needs solving and address it that way, and you’ll find the right office. You know the this isn’t about what offices we hold, its about what people we help.
How do I gather information as to how I’m going to vote? Well first you have a core set of principles that I operate from which is one you know is this something that helps the most amount of people and hurts the fewest. I was a prosecutor and for seven years I had to present to juries information to hold individuals accountable and if I had a criminal case that use DNA, well I’m not a scientist. However, I was able to bring in scientists who could explain it to the jurors. I treated this job just the same. I go to the experts and I have them explain it to me and I will use what I learned from them to explain it to my constituents and to explain it to any colleagues that I’m trying to persuade. No one is expected to know it all, but I think you have to be curious enough and resourceful enough to be able to know who to go to and then listen to those individuals.
When I think about moments that I’ll never forget, yesterday we elected a new speaker of the house. This is something that only happens every couple of years sometimes even longer. This is something that’s so special. We’re transferring power in our country and not a shot was fired. That really resonated with me. I’ll never forget that. You know you could look at a hundred countries across the world where if you transfer power you know to an office like the Speaker of the House, there may be violence, there maybe tanks in the public square. Despite how contentious and gridlocked Congress is, we still transferred power from one person to another. I think that says a lot about our country and it’s something that is important for us to always step back and reflect upon.