Composite Photo of Mike Levin, Chrissy Houlahan, Josh Hawley, Josh Harder, Anthony Gonzalez

Meet Stanford’s Congressional Freshmen

They represent both parties and come from different backgrounds, but they have one thing in common: the Farm.
counter-clockwise from top: courtesy the office of Rep. Anthony Gonzalez; Ap photo/J. Scott Applewhite; courtesy the office of Rep. Josh harder; AP Photo/Matt Rourke; AP Photo/Jeff Roberson; Omar Chatriwala/Getty images. COMPOSITE: GIORGIA VIRGILI
Composite Photo of Mike Levin, Chrissy Houlahan, Josh Hawley, Josh Harder, Anthony Gonzale

Meet Stanford’s Congressional Freshmen

They represent both parties and come from different backgrounds, but they have one thing in common: the Farm.
Photo of Mike Levin

His favorite Stanford memory

“I remember when we made the Final Four [in men's basketball] in 1998. That was pretty incredible.”

What gives him hope

“The new generation of freshman lawmakers, who are the most diverse and talented in the history of our country.”

What gives him pause

“Our partisanship, and particularly those who are unwilling or unable to listen to science and evidence. I worry that we’re placing a small set of interests ahead of public well-being.”

Mike Levin, ’01

‘I Could Not Wait for Others’

By Dave Sloan

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.”

His favorite Stanford memory

“I remember when we made the Final Four [in men's basketball] in 1998. That was pretty incredible.”

What gives him hope

“The new generation of freshman lawmakers, who are the most diverse and talented in the history of our country.”

What gives him pause

“Our partisanship, and particularly those who are unwilling or unable to listen to science and evidence. I worry that we’re placing a small set of interests ahead of public well-being.”
Dave Sloan is a Washington, D.C.-based reporter focused on Congress and national politics.
Photo of ChrissyHoulahan

Drawn to service

Wanting to use her business background to improve education, in 2011 Houlahan signed up with Teach for America and spent a year teaching chemistry at an under-resourced Philadelphia high school.

Her best Stanford memory

“Many come to mind, but meeting my husband, Bart, in Otero our first week of freshman year certainly tops the list.”

Chrissy Houlahan, ’89

She Found a New Way to Serve

By Jean Yung

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.”

Drawn to service

Wanting to use her business background to improve education, in 2011 Houlahan signed up with Teach for America and spent a year teaching chemistry at an under-resourced Philadelphia high school.

Her best Stanford memory

“Many come to mind, but meeting my husband, Bart, in Otero our first week of freshman year certainly tops the list.”
Jean Yung is an economics correspondent for Market News International and is based in Washington, D.C.
Photo of Josh Hawley

Stanford was love at first sight

Hawley visited the Farm as a high school junior and was instantly smitten. “I just loved the combination of really rigorous academic enterprise combined with people who don’t take themselves too seriously.”

A Teddy Roosevelt Fan

Starting Hawley’s freshman year, Kennedy supervised the future senator’s research paper on Teddy Roosevelt, which ignited an abiding interest in the former president and eventually led to the publication of Hawley’s book, Theodore Roosevelt: Preacher of Righteousness, when Hawley was 28.

Josh Hawley, ’02

Scholar, Lawyer, Senator

By Timothy Weatherhead

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.”

Stanford was love at first sight

Hawley visited the Farm as a high school junior and was instantly smitten. “I just loved the combination of really rigorous academic enterprise combined with people who don’t take themselves too seriously.”

A Teddy Roosevelt Fan

Starting Hawley’s freshman year, Kennedy supervised the future senator’s research paper on Teddy Roosevelt, which ignited an abiding interest in the former president and eventually led to the publication of Hawley’s book, Theodore Roosevelt: Preacher of Righteousness, when Hawley was 28.
Timothy Weatherhead is an associate editor at The Hill in Washington, D.C.
Photo of Josh Harder

When he isn’t working

Harder and his wife, a former executive at Clever Inc., spend part of their time fostering dogs. They live in Turlock.

What gives him hope

“The fact that 2018 was the most unprecedented period of grassroots energy and excitement that this country has ever seen.”

His biggest challenge

“How do we get across all the gridlock in Congress? This is an institution that is working more poorly now than at any other time in our 250-year history, except perhaps the Civil War. And that’s deeply concerning to me.”

Josh Harder, ’08

Promoting Partnership over Partisanship

By Dave Sloan

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.”

When he isn’t working

Harder and his wife, a former executive at Clever Inc., spend part of their time fostering dogs. They live in Turlock.

What gives him hope

“The fact that 2018 was the most unprecedented period of grassroots energy and excitement that this country has ever seen.”

His biggest challenge

“How do we get across all the gridlock in Congress? This is an institution that is working more poorly now than at any other time in our 250-year history, except perhaps the Civil War. And that’s deeply concerning to me.”
Photo of Anthony Gonzakes

His best Stanford memory

“Meeting my wife there. A friend of ours put us together on a blind date. We had some drinks and tacos at Tacolicious in downtown Palo Alto, and it just clicked.”

The Manning-to-Gonzalez connection

During his NFL career, Gonzalez caught seven touchdown passes from legendary quarterback Peyton Manning. When Gonzalez announced his candidacy for the House of Representatives last fall, Manning was among his earliest financial supporters.

What needs to change in politics

“The institutional and social forces that are fueling ever-deeper divides. On one hand, we have members who seem to sincerely want to work together. On the other hand, the loudest and angriest voices earn the most press and prestige. So, the political incentives to be angry and the legislative incentives to be productive contradict one another.”

Anthony Gonzalez, MBA ’14

Former NFL Receiver Goes Deep on Job Growth

By Jean Yung

Rep. Anthony Gonzalez’s first weeks in Congress did not go quite as he had envisioned. A 35-day government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, had left 800,000 federal workers without pay and House newcomers like Gonzalez utterly frustrated by the impasse at the leadership level.

“In some respects, D.C. was as dysfunctional as I thought before I got here,” says the freshman Republican representing northeast Ohio. “There are a lot of ways that we self-sabotage as legislators.”

Like many of his peers in the freshman class, Gonzalez, MBA ’14, had run on a pledge of cooperation—“to try to solve problems together from a place of mutual respect, not animosity.”

The lack of vision and forward momentum in Washington had long troubled Gonzalez, a native Ohioan and former NFL receiver. The son of immigrants who fled Cuba in 1961, Gonzalez grew up around steel factories in Cleveland and counted his abuela (grandmother) as his best friend. He played football in high school and at Ohio State University before being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 2007. Injuries forced him to retire from professional football after just five years, but he soon headed to business school with an eye toward bringing fresh ideas back to his hometown.

“Everything I knew as a kid was around manufacturing. It’s such an important part of the northeast Ohio economy,” he said. But what the area lacked, he said, was technological development. He relished the chance to immerse himself in the world of technology transfer at Stanford.

After graduating from the GSB, Gonzalez became chief operating officer at Chalk Schools, a San Francisco-based start-up offering a data analytics platform for K-12 schools to improve their operational efficiency. When his wife, Elizabeth (Durot, ’08), became pregnant with their son in 2017, Gonzalez reassessed his priorities, decided to leave his job and moved back to Ohio to pursue politics.

“I ran because Washington had stopped working for northeast Ohio, and we need strong leadership to help push my community forward,” he said. “If we can paint a vision for kids that says, ‘Cleveland: This is where you want to be, and this is where you want to settle down,’ it would be a huge benefit.”

His best Stanford memory

“Meeting my wife there. A friend of ours put us together on a blind date. We had some drinks and tacos at Tacolicious in downtown Palo Alto, and it just clicked.”

The Manning-to-Gonzalez connection

During his NFL career, Gonzalez caught seven touchdown passes from legendary quarterback Peyton Manning. When Gonzalez announced his candidacy for the House of Representatives last fall, Manning was among his earliest financial supporters.

What needs to change in politics

“The institutional and social forces that are fueling ever-deeper divides. On one hand, we have members who seem to sincerely want to work together. On the other hand, the loudest and angriest voices earn the most press and prestige. So, the political incentives to be angry and the legislative incentives to be productive contradict one another.”
TOP IMAGE CREDIT: counter-clockwise from top: courtesy the office of Rep. Anthony Gonzalez; Ap photo/J. Scott Applewhite; courtesy the office of Rep. Josh harder; AP Photo/Matt Rourke; AP Photo/Jeff Roberson; Omar Chatriwala/Getty images. COMPOSITE: GIORGIA VIRGILI