Susie Lee’s father lost his steel mill job at age 56. Now, she’s on a mission to bring jobs to Nevada.

Susie Lee’s father lost his steel mill job at age 56. Now, she’s on a mission to bring jobs to Nevada.

Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., speaks at a campaign event Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

By Bonnie Fuller

July 9, 2024

Susie Lee will never forget her father’s pain. That’s why, she says, she’s voted for bills that are expected to bring nearly 200,000 new jobs to the Silver State.

When US Rep. Susie Lee was growing up in Canton, Ohio in a family with six sisters and one brother, she learned how to shower — fast.

“We only had one shower,” she recalled. 

Her family had to make do with the sole income that her father earned at a local steel mill, which had employed him ever since he had served in the army during the Korean War. All the kids in the family had to pitch in to make ends meet, she said. 

“From the age of 8, I had a paper route, and from there, I went on to being a lifeguard,” Lee told the Nevadan in an exclusive interview.

All that experience juggling school work and part-time jobs came in handy when Lee, who is running for re-election to represent Nevada’s 3rd congressional district, learned that her dad had lost his job at the steel mill at the age of 56.

Lee was in her sophomore year at Carnegie Mellon University, participating in a swim meet, when she got the heartbreaking news. 

“It was very upsetting,” she said.

The now-Congresswoman confesses that she “absolutely” thought in the moment that she was going to have to drop out of college. But then she got a surprise: people who knew her at school and the university itself reached out to help.

“My college swim coach hired me to become an aerobics instructor. One of the other students hired me to help take care of his children during the summers,” she said. “I shelved books at the library, I slung food in food service, and I worked at the business school helping them in the copy shop. I was in a work-study program and fortunately, this was at a time when Pell Grants actually did help.” 

(Federal Pell Grants are awarded to undergraduate students who demonstrate exceptional financial need.)

It was Lee’s experience of juggling jobs and school while also watching her parents struggle with her dad’s unemployment which led her down the path to working for nonprofits and eventually running for Congress in 2018.

Comparing and contrasting Lee and her opponent

 

In 2024, the mom of two is running for re-election for a fourth term against Republican Drew Johnson, a former political columnist with libertarian views, who describes himself as a “government waste expert.”

Johnson has stated on his campaign site that he is running to “decrease government mandates.” However, one of those government mandates that he wants to decrease appears to be Social Security.

While his website states that he will “stand up for America’s seniors to ensure they receive the Social Security benefits they worked for their whole lives,” he has repeatedly trashed the program on Twitter, seemingly referring to it as a “failed policy,” and stating that “65 year-olds could be working.”

He has also tweeted that Americans who take Social Security – are “acting like some socialist suckling off the teat of gov’t [government].”

His campaign site says that he wants to “make the program solvent for future generations,” which echoes language used by the 80% of House Republicans who released a proposal in March that would raise the Social Security retirement age, possibly to 70.

Lee, meanwhile, opposes cutting Social Security. Her own parents had to “exist on Social Security and a little bit of a pension in their old age” while her dad battled depression after losing his job and her parents struggled to afford healthcare. Things got so bad they almost lost their home.

“So I get it when people say medical bills are debilitating or housing’s debilitating. I understand, I lived it,” Lee told The Nevadan.

“Getting it” and wanting to help others less fortunate was part of why she ran a crisis intervention shelter for homeless people after moving to Nevada.

After all, she said, people helped her when she was in need in college.

“At key points in my life, there were always these people who reached out and helped me,” she said. “I always say in life, you’re going up and down the ladder and sometimes you’re at the bottom, reaching your hand up and you’re hoping that someone will reach down and help you out.”

“And when you’re at the top, I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to extend that hand and help others,” she continued. “Ultimately, I think it was a value that was instilled in me by my mother and my father too.”

Lee’s efforts to bring jobs and investments to Nevada

 

When the pandemic hit Nevada—a state with an economy heavily dependent on tourism—unemployment soared to 30%. Lee voted for several Covid-era relief packages, including the 2021 American Rescue Plan, which helped Nevada’s economy recover from the worst of the pandemic.

Now, Lee lights up talking about President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, which she “proudly” voted for, and which has already brought $12 billion in investment and is expected to create up to 40,000 new jobs in Nevada. 

“We’ve already created nearly 16,000 jobs,” Lee said.

She singles out a company called Unimacts, a solar manufacturing company which moved its equipment out of Mexico and into a plant located in Las Vegas, creating 200 new jobs. They also recently opened a second plant in Sloan, which will create another 200 jobs, she said. 

Lee also gets excited talking about the Brightline West high speed rail line, which recently broke ground after a $3.5 billion investment from Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law—another law Lee voted for that is expected to bring 140,000 new jobs to the state. 

The long-awaited high-speed rail line will connect Las Vegas to Southern California and is expected to cut the usual four hour drive down to a roughly two hour train trip.

“This is something that’s been talked about for decades here,” Lee said. “And anyone who’s been on the highway between here and LA on a Sunday afternoon understands how important this investment is. Just this project alone will bring [an estimated] 35,000 jobs here to Southern Nevada. And this will be the nation’s first high speed rail.”

Then there’s Biden’s bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act, which Lee points to as an engine for diversifying the Nevada economy. 

“We just received $15 million for the Southwest Sustainability Innovation Hub, which will focus on innovative technologies for creating water security for the state,” she said.

A proud Democrat who’s also willing to work across the aisle

 

Lee prides herself on collaborating with Republicans, even though zero Republicans voted to pass the Inflation Reduction Act. She insists she’s made efforts to go out of her way to build relationships across the aisle, “because ultimately, we are hired by our constituents, the American people, to solve problems.”

“And you can’t solve problems  if you’re sitting there demagogue-ing on an issue,” Lee, the vice chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus in Congress, added. “You’ve got to reach across the aisle and reach compromise.”

But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t bristle at Republican accusations that Joe Biden and the Democrats aren’t doing enough to solve the issue of inflation. 

“I love how my Republican colleagues want to talk about inflation but they have no solution, nothing,” she said.

“They just want to talk about it. But we actually delivered Medicare negotiating prescription drug prices, capping the insulin at $35 a month and then capping out-of-pocket [prescription] expenses for seniors at $2,000 a year. And so when you look at who’s really taken on this issue, it’s Democrats.” 

She’s also hoping to remind voters that she and Democrats were there when Nevada was “ground zero for the pandemic.” 

“Let’s not forget the incredible disruption that [Covid] caused to supply chains… it’s just had a major disruption in our lives,” she said. “If you would’ve said four years ago that Nevada would be a booming economy right now, with the lowest unemployment rate we’ve seen in a while, no one would believe you.”

Looking to the future

 

Lee acknowledges that prices for gas and housing are still high, but blames out-of-state “speculation by Wall Street corporations that are driving up prices“ by buying up single family homes in Nevada.

To fight this, she has co-sponsored a bill called the Home Act, which would make it illegal to price gouge on housing. She is also co-sponsoring a bill to expedite housing projects on public lands, which passed the House on Tuesday. Lee is “pretty hopeful” the bill will become law. 

Lee stressed that she is working on more solutions for her Nevada constituents and promises that in a next term in Congress, she will “continue to be a leader in bringing down the cost of housing and bringing down the cost of gas and we’re going into renewable energy. Despite what Republicans say – it will bring down the price of gas,” Lee said.

“And I’ll continue to work to bring jobs here. What we’ve passed so far has created incredible economic opportunity here,” Lee added. “Look at who’s delivered major investments in our economy and worked at bringing down the cost of living for people. And it’s been us.”

  • Bonnie Fuller

    Bonnie Fuller is the former CEO & Editor-in-Chief of HollywoodLife.com, and the former Editor-in-Chief of Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, USWeekly and YM. She now writes about politics and reproductive rights. She can be followed on her Substack at: BonnieFuller1 ‘Your Body, Your Choice.

CATEGORIES: LABOR
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