Few candidates exemplify the exciting new type of Democrat running for Congress in 2018 like Miami’s Kristen Rosen Gonzalez. She’s a single mom, a teacher, and takes on the establishment without even a hint of hesitation.
Since 2015 Kristen Rosen Gonzalez has served as a Miami Beach City Commissioner – a position she won with an insurgent campaign against a much better funded opponent. Since President Trump’s election, her fearlessness has only increased. After giving a high profile speech at the South Florida Women’s March in January 2017, she found the courage to go public with her own #MeToo experience in October. Soon after she made the bold decision to launch a campaign for Congress, hoping to represent the people of Florida’s 27th District.
Just to get on the ballot in November will be a tough fight. Republican incumbent Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is not running for reelection, and as a result the race has attracted several contenders. Most notable among them is Donna Shalala, the 90s-era Secretary of Health and Human Services from the Clinton administration. With big money and big connections, Shalala can bring massive resources to the upcoming primary fight. But when it comes to fights, we suspect Kristen Rosen Gonzalez will be more than ready.
With such an interesting story to tell, we were very eager to add Kristen to our list of News Growl interviewees. She agreed, and here’s the result:
The News Growl Interview: Kristen Rosen Gonzalez
News Growl: You’re running for Congress right in the middle of a historic surge in women running for office in 2018. Do you see your campaign as part of this “movement,” or did you decide to run for your own reasons?
Kristen Rosen Gonzalez: I decided to run because there is an imbalance in the government that affects regular working people like me. People who receive a paycheck every two weeks. People raising children. People who suffer paying the bills.
To ensure a solid middle class, there needs to be more investment in education, housing and healthcare. I will dedicate myself to the little guy.
Also, this is the century where we must change. We have to shift to a clean energy economy. We must retrain people for jobs. The government is moving way too slowly. Much slower than technology. This presents a problem.
But the actual moment I decided to run for Congress was when I watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary Before the Flood and learning more about the Republican voting block that shields the fossil fuels industry. That was enough for me to decide to try and flip one red seat blue.
NG: And what about your move into politics in the first place in 2015? You were already a single mom and a teacher – both demanding roles. It would be easy just to leave the job to others. What inspired you to get involved?
KRG: I became a politician when I realized that data and logic was not part of the decision-making process in [the Florida capital] Tallahassee. The decisions being made are mostly political, and as a full-time worker and academic, it was frustrating to be on the receiving end of policies that do not benefit the general public.
Elected officials pass policies without really thinking them through. When they cut someone’s salary by 3%, that makes a difference. There is a lack of compassion and understanding in politics.
“I am not afraid to fight. I am not afraid to lose. I am not afraid to speak up, and I know how to deliver a message.” – Kristen Rosen Gonzalez
NG: Standing up for the disadvantaged is a strong theme in all of your campaigning. As a commissioner for the City of Miami Beach you pride yourself on being the “people’s commissioner.” Can you elaborate?
KRG: I was elected with very little money and a lot of hard work. I pride myself on always listening to the little guy and advocating for them. It doesn’t happen very often in a system controlled by big dollars. I am very proud to represent Miami Beach, and it is my pleasure to serve my constituents.
NG: Can you share an example of how you’ve advocated for the little guy?
KRG: It’s the small details that often mean the most. Helping people navigate city hall can make a big difference. Also fixing potholes, getting tree branches cut, reading to kindergarteners on Dr. Seuss day. That’s why I am in public office.
NG: You mention that you were elected as a Miami Beach City Commissioner with very little money and a lot of hard work. I read you actually walked through the entire district wearing a backpack, speaking to every resident. Is a hands-on, direct approach like that possible in a much larger race like running for Congress?
KRG: It is hot out there and there are a lot of mosquitos – but I’m trying!
NG: So let’s say you win in November, what will be unique about Congresswoman Kristen Rosen Gonzalez?
KRG: First of all, I’m a single working mother. Very few other Congresswomen can say that. My perspective will be invaluable on any dais because I live and see struggle every day, just like all the working parents out there. My current experiences qualify me for this office.
But most of all, I am not afraid to fight. I am not afraid to lose. I am not afraid to speak up, and I know how to deliver a message. Ask the politicos of Miami Beach!
NG: What about having more women in Congress generally? What do you think the biggest upsides would be?
KRG: Women legislate differently. We are more holistic. We are not looking for hierarchy and power. We seek common sense and connection, and I think we are great at multi-tasking. Women make up nearly 52 % of the population and are only represented in Congress by 19%. We need more women because our viewpoint is needed.
NG: The political climate is changing rapidly at the moment thanks to more strong women speaking up. In October you made headlines when, in the shadow of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, you spoke up about your own recent #MeToo experience. Coming forward must have been one one level very embarrassing, and at the same time you must have known you would face criticism. How difficult was making that decision? What convinced you to speak up?
KRG: I spoke up, because a man was going to be elected who was going to abuse his power with everyone surrounding him. I thought of my daughter, young interns and workers, and I knew I had to speak up, which was really awful and embarrassing. He lost his election, so I feel like I saved many women from a bad guy.
NG: There may be other women reading this who have been through similar situations and are trying to decide whether to speak up or not. What advice would you give them?
KRG: If coming forward is for the greater good, have the courage to do it. But know that you will feel like poor Hester Prynne.
NG: You’re referencing a character from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, so it won’t surprise readers to learn you’ve been a popular teacher in the English department at Miami Dade College for the last ten years. Your speciality is teaching public speaking, which sounds like an ideal background for a politician. Does your expertise help a lot with campaigning?
KRG: You can know all the ingredients that go into a cake, and yet, when you bake it, it doesn’t always come out perfect. I have had great moments and then I have blunders, just like everyone else. The key to a good speech is not just the content, it is the delivery and the person’s presence.
NG: What about a public speaking hero? Who inspires you?
KRG: My favorite speech of all time was Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches.” It was such a rallying cry to his people. When I want to feel inspired, I listen to it.
NG: And what about your best moment personally as a speaker? Do you have a favorite speech?
KRG: My personal highlight is the speech I gave was at the Women’s March in Miami on climate change. That was a defining moment, as I stood there and saw the thousands at the Women’s March — the pain so many protesters felt, I knew I was going to run for office and flip a red seat blue. For my city. For my community. For my country.
NG: Speaking more generally about communication, you’re running for Congress in a district that is 72% Hispanic. How important is being able to speak Spanish for someone aspiring to represent Florida District 27?
KRG: It is vital the winner is someone who can speak Spanish fluently. To gain the fluency I have I’ve spent 25 years living in the Hispanic community. But Spanish is so much more than just a language. Voters want someone who understands their culture, their struggle, their language, and that takes time. I know the electorate and I know how they want to be represented.
NG: I understand your main opponent, the Clinton-era Health Secretary Donna Shalala, is not a Spanish speaker. But you’ve been more critical of her support for developers during her term as president of the University of Miami. You’ve even got one campaign ad where she is called “Donna Walmarta.” What’s that about?
KRG: The primary complaint against Ms. Shalala is the sale of the Pine Rocklands. Voters are very upset that she sold environmentally sensitive land that was given to the University of Miami by the federal government. She sold it to a developer who is going to build condos and a Wal-Mart. I have heard this complaint so many times. The government put their trust in Donna and she sold the public out. People are angry.
NG: She may have the ultimate insider contacts from her work a generation ago, but you’ve also worked with some equally impressive names. You co-chaired the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation Undergraduate Pathway’s Program. Can you tell us what you did exactly?
KRG: We never actually met with the Gates’, but I did participate in a national effort called “Completion By Design” to reform the community college system. The community college as an institution across the country is fragmented and unstandardized. I spent two years creating pathway majors to graduations. It was a fascinating time because I was creating programs that were going to have lasting impacts on the community and local economy.
Thanks to our initiative, every student attending Miami Dade College now has to choose a “pathway.” I am very happy I was able to help.
NG: You have two teenage children – what do they think of their mom running for Congress?
KRG: They campaign with me, actually. They knock on doors. They visit the senior centers. The campaign is a family affair.
NG: I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. One last fun question: is there a fictional politician from television or the movies you most identify with?
KRG: She’s not a politician, but I really identify with Erin Brockovich. My whole existence feels like I am fighting a power structure.
A huge thank you to Kristen Rosen Gonzalez for taking part in this interview. If you would like to learn more about her campaign please visit rosengonzalez.com.