California Rep. Mike Levin, ’01, has long been politically active. At Stanford, he was ASSU president. More recently, the Democratic Party had approached him several times to run for Congress and other offices, but the time was never right for him and his family. That is, until the night of the 2016 general election.
As the rest of the country took in the results of the most polarizing general election in recent memory, Levin made up his mind: If not him, then who?
“I decided that I could not wait for others . . . that we had to be personally responsible for the type of country that we want to see,” Levin says.
Levin defeated 16 other contenders to represent the 49th District, which includes parts of southern Orange County and western San Diego County.
“You would be amazed at the number of my classmates and friends from Stanford who helped with anything from fund-raising to making calls and knocking on doors in the district,” says Levin. “I just got an incredible outpouring of support from the students that I went to school with.”
He is both surprised and encouraged by the influence his congressional freshman class is already having. “You hear often that Congress is all about seniority, and that is true. But nonetheless, as a freshman, I’ve had the opportunity to have a lot of influence.”
He sits on the House Committee on Natural Resources and on the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, where he says he can push for environmental protections that are important for his coastal constituents. He also landed a leadership spot on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, another of his priorities.
The 40-year-old holds a law degree from Duke and spent much of his career as an energy and environment attorney in the clean energy business. Levin lives in San Juan Capistrano with his wife, Chrissy, 6-year-old son, Jonathan, and 4-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.
“In many ways, student government is a microcosm of the types of things you do in Washington, whether it’s building coalitions around important issues or dealing with the concerns of constituents,” Levin says. “Those are all lessons that I started to learn while at Stanford.”
A third-generation military officer who spent 13 years in the reserves, Democratic Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, ’89, purposely avoided discussing politics with other service members out of respect for her role as a nonpartisan citizen-soldier.
But by 2016, more than a decade after she had left the service, the trajectory of the nation so worried the former Air Force captain that she decided to run for office in Pennsylvania’s 6th District, despite being a political novice. The roughly 40 percent Democratic, 40 percent Republican and 20 percent independent electorate “didn’t talk about things with one another—because it’s not our business,” she says. It was symptomatic of the nation’s us-versus-them mentality as a whole.
“My job in the Air Force was related to satellite imagery, and when two satellites are telling you the same thing, you call it ground truth,” she says. “My dad and daughter were both telling me [the country was] in trouble, and I found that to be the truth.”
The daughter and granddaughter of Navy pilots, Houlahan majored in industrial engineering at Stanford, joined the Air Force ROTC and harbored ambitions of following in the footsteps of Sally Ride, ’73, MS ’75, PhD ’78, the first American woman to fly in space.
After her three years at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts working in a strategic defense initiative program and earning an advanced degree in technology and public policy from MIT, she and her husband, Bart, ’89, settled down in southeast Pennsylvania, joining two other Otero dorm mates—Jay Coen Gilbert, ’89, and Jim Fox, ’89—to develop a T-shirt start-up into a multinational basketball apparel company, AND1.
She had been an entrepreneur for most of her career and, as a mom, always challenged her two children to “put their passions to their highest, best use”—to quote a family motto. So she determined she would mount a campaign to represent her district, encompassing rural Chester County (the world capital of mushroom farming); southern Berks County, including Reading; and some affluent suburbs of Philadelphia. It is “a diverse but pragmatic community,” Houlahan says.
Bipartisanship is something Houlahan desperately wants to promote on the House floor. One way she is reaching across the aisle is through the fellowship of vets. The freshman class in Congress boasts the largest number of veterans in nearly a decade, including three former servicewomen.
From her seats on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, Houlahan also hopes to bring her technical background to bear on issues like cyber- and biosecurity.
“I’m now the third industrial engineer from Stanford in Congress,” she says. “There’s a dearth of people with technical backgrounds here, and it would be helpful to have those types of folks at the table.”
One doesn’t get far into a conversation about Sen. Josh Hawley’s life path before David M. Kennedy’s name emerges. The Stanford emeritus history professor looms large in the Hawley narrative, as the Republican senator from Missouri relates it. “I learned a tremendous amount from him about what it means to think like a historian and to work with texts, which served me well in the law and has served me well now as a lawmaker. I’m deeply grateful to him,” says Hawley.
Kennedy, who directed Hawley’s honors thesis, calls Hawley “some kind of national treasure” despite their differences on some policy matters. “Josh was among the two or three most gifted students I have taught in more than half a century at Stanford,” says Kennedy. “From my earliest acquaintance with him, it was clear that he had the full package—truly uncommon smarts, focus, discipline, purposefulness, civic-mindedness and a surplus of personal charm.”
That may help explain how Hawley, ’02, defeated two-term incumbent Claire McCaskill last fall to become, at 39, the country’s youngest U.S. senator.
Hawley, who earned his law degree at Yale, first went to Washington as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. It was a watershed moment for Hawley, and not just for its professional implications. There, he met his future wife, Erin, a fellow Roberts clerk with whom he shared an office. “Erin always jokes that we met in the least romantic place on earth: the U.S. Supreme Court,” Hawley says.
Eventually, the couple moved back to Hawley’s home state of Missouri, worked at the University of Missouri Law School and began raising a family. They have two sons, Elijah, 6, and Blaise, 4. In 2016, Josh Hawley took the plunge into politics, winning election as Missouri’s attorney general. Two years later, he moved into the national spotlight with his victory over McCaskill.
Hawley says that whether he was practicing law or serving in public office, his motivation has always been the same: “answering a call to serve.”
“Putting God first, upholding the Constitution as it was written and defending the little guy . . . that’s really gotten me to where I am today,” he says.
He says his priority is delivering for his constituents on the issues that matter most to them, namely ensuring that workers’ wages are rising and bolstering agriculture, one of Missouri’s top industries.
In addition, the freshman senator says he is monitoring Big Tech. “I’m deeply concerned about the business model and behavior of big tech companies . . . how they’re using their power to squelch competition, to invade privacy rights and to engage in speech bias, and I think it’s a big problem,” Hawley says. “Expect me to pay a lot of attention to it.”
Rep. Josh Harder traces one of his most important life decisions to Alternative Spring Break, a student-led program offered through Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service. The weeklong fact-finding effort in Washington was organized by Pam (Sud, ’08), the woman who would later become his wife. She and Harder bonded over discussions about public policy and economic development, but he returned to the Farm disillusioned by the dysfunction he saw in the nation’s capital.
“That experience actually convinced me that politics was not the way I wanted to go,” he recalls. Ironic, says Harder, ’08, that he is now walking the same halls that he visited as a student, this time as a member of the House of Representatives.
Harder, a Democrat, was elected last November to represent California’s 10th District, a mostly rural area that covers Stanislaus County and southern San Joaquin County. Previously, he was vice president at Bessemer Venture Partners in San Francisco, and he also taught at Modesto Junior College. Harder studied economics and political science at Stanford and earned a joint master’s in business and public policy from Harvard.
Like a lot of newcomers in Congress, he aims to bridge the partisan divide. He meets every Wednesday morning for breakfast with a group of Republicans and Democrats called the Problem Solvers Caucus.
The impulse to solve problems is especially important to the people of his district, he says. “I’ve actually found a lot of success in some areas that are maybe less front-page news—things like water infrastructure, career education—some of our core challenges that really affect communities like ours.”
Health care is one of the priorities on which Harder hopes to find bipartisan comity. It is also the issue that spurred Harder’s entry into the congressional race last fall. His younger brother, David, was born 10 weeks premature and weighed less than 2 pounds; he continues to battle health problems. Harder says he wants to make sure his brother and others like him have affordable health care.
“When I saw my congressman vote for a bill that would undermine that, I decided to leave my business career and challenge him, and less than two years later, here I am.”