Mallory McMorrow, 32
Mallory McMorrow for Michigan State Senate
Industrial designer turned political candidate Mallory McMorrow, 32, is running for Michigan State Senate. Mallory hopes to use the problem solving skills she utilized as a industrial designer to find solutions to Michigan’s toughest problems.
What was the best advice you received before you ran for office?
I went through Emerge training which recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office. One of the women who taught one of our classes Jocelyn Benson who is Michigan’s Democratic Secretary of State candidate. She just flat out said, “Run for what you want to run for. Don't try to talk yourself out of it. You’re accomplished, you have a career, run for what you want to run for.”
Where's your favorite place to hang out in your district?
If it's during the day I'm at Atomic Coffee in Royal Oak, which is where I live.
if it's happy hour, I'm at Greater Claw Brewery, which is in Birmingham.
If you could get a beer with any politician to who would it be?
I'm cheating a little bit. Mine is not necessarily a politician: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just because I don't know a woman alive who is more badass than she is right now. And I'm sure I would have a million questions about what it was like coming up when she did and really paving the way for women who aren't afraid to take up space.
And then Michelle Obama for the same reason. I think she reshaped what the role of a first lady can and should be. She’s so optimistic and powerful, and again, not afraid to take up space.
That’s essentially a welcome tone from how politics is right now, that we can have somebody who is a role model and somebody we do want to look up to, and somebody who just relentlessly optimistic.
In your own words, what does the Michigan State Senate do?
So the State Senate and State Legislature in my mind really should make the decisions that affect everyone Michigander throughout the state. It’s the quality of your water, it’s the roads you drive on, how schools are funded, and how teachers are supported. Effectively, I think the State Legislature sets the path that the state should follow. What do we want to prioritize? What do we want to invest in? And it should really be an organization that has a singular goal to protect and forward the lives of people in Michigan regardless of what's happening in DC.
What are the potholes in your district? What issues do you think are being neglected and need to be addressed?
Actually, in Michigan, potholes are a big issue. Infrastructure is crumbling. I'm an industrial designer by trade. So I'm trying to bring some of that creative problem solving and innovation to the role. When you look around the Midwest, our weather isn't unique to us. But for some reason, we have horrendous potholes. We have people who died in car accidents from hitting potholes this year, and people are spending up to an average of $860 a year on car repairs because the roads are so bad. We are the state that invented the American automotive industry, yet you can't drive on the road here.
Water quality is a really, really big issue for Michigan. We are the Great Lake State and we're still reeling from what happened in Flint. Flint is not a part of my district, but I think it just became embarrassing that the national story about Michigan is corruption that led to an entire city effectively being poisoned. And it's been four years but there isn't a permanent solution, yet, there's still a lot of work that needs to be done.
I think there's a real lack of trust around the entire state of the people responsible for making these decisions. How can we trust the quality and cleanliness of our water? Around the state, we’re starting to see chemicals that are a result of manufacturing sites like Teflon, non stick pans, and firefighting foam, and all these sorts of things that the state has known about actively for six years, but the public is just finding out now. Many sites have these chemicals in the water supply and the public is just learning how bad they are. These are chemicals that are, in a common language, “forever” chemicals because they just don’t go away. So that's a huge concern.
People really feel pride about the water here in Michigan. You're never more than six miles away from a lake or a body of water. People love that we are the Great Lakes State, people love spending time on the water, and they want to make sure that we are protecting the water both within the lakes and what's coming out of the faucet.
We are also the state that unleashed Betsy DeVos on the nation. Historically, back in the 70s, Michigan had one of the best public school systems in the country and now we are regularly hovering around the bottom. And it's not just Detroit. We see fewer and fewer people going into teacher certificate programs every single year. And we've seen the damaging effects of what happens when you prioritize for-profit charter schools and choice first, and I think there's there are certain areas where letting the market decide and letting business get involved doesn't make sense.
You are product designer by trade who worked in advertising New York and LA. What brought you to Michigan?
I’m not originally from Michigan. And I know that that is something that my opponent will use against me. I grew up in rural New Jersey. I went to school at Notre Dame, just five miles south of Michigan in Indiana. I spent eight years total in Los Angeles, two years in New York. I've lived all over the country.
But we would come out here to Michigan every year for a road rally. My husband was born and raised here and friends of mine organized an annual 1000 Mile Road Rally around the state of Michigan.
It was a way for them to bring creative professionals from all around the country to Michigan to show off what they loved about the state. So we would all fly into Detroit, rent a bunch cars, and drive a different route every year. We didn't know where we were going. So over those five years, I got to see most of the state. I went up into the upper peninsula, I went to Kalamazoo, I went to Grand Rapids, I’ve been to all the roadside shops, to all the state parks and to just all of these unbelievably beautiful places.
For somebody who started my career in car design, I already knew how important Michigan was in the history of design manufacturing and innovation. But on the vacations every year, I really fell in love with the state. Of anywhere I've ever lived, there is nowhere more beautiful than Michigan or has more opportunity.
So we got an opportunity a few years back for my husband to move back for a job that he had with GM. And I decided to move us. We bought our house and got married in Eastern Market in Detroit. It was amazing.
I genuinely believe there's no state in the country that has more potential than Michigan. You look at all the things that we've done historically. So we deserve to have people representing us who believe in that potential and choose to invest in the things that are going to get us there.
What shifted you from product design to government?
It’s all accidental. I went back to Notre Dame this past year to give talks to the design students. I was talking about my career over the past decade. If you look at my career on paper, it doesn't exactly make sense - car design, product design, media, advertising, then documentary film production and now to this. But I think there is a common through line. I've always been somebody who loves finding people who have really, really different backgrounds and experiences and bringing them together to solve problems.
If you look at places like Harvard Business School now are teaching design thinking, which is pulling elements of the way that industrial designers are trained to solve really complex business and process problems. And I think that's sorely missing in politics.
Design thinking centers around never assuming the first problem is the problem that's on the surface. So it's really appropriate here. It's like the old Henry Ford adage, “If I had asked the people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” So, you're just kind of band-aiding problems.
But then once you get beyond that, you just start asking questions. You do focus groups, you walk in people's shoes, you shadow them and then you test things and analyze how they work. And then you come up with a problem. It’s a really iterative, like the scientific method but for solving design problems. We’re starting to see that process applied in different industries.
I think that's led to my success in my career. And as I look at where we're stuck in politics, and I think regardless of where people are on either side of the aisle, there is this common frustration with the fact that it doesn't feel like anything gets done. It doesn't feel like the people we elect actually care to listen to us or are actually looking for solutions. I think bringing some of that process into politics and will make it much more accessible and hopefully more innovative for everybody. Hopefully I can restore some of the trust that I think we’ve all lost.
You mentioned Michigan is the state that unleashed Betsy Devos on the nation. In the Michigan State Senate, what can you do to help them save Michigan schools?
The number one thing that we can do more than anything else is support teachers. I am in the middle of reading an interesting book, “What Schools Could Be.” I'm fascinated by it. The author was venture capitalist who was really been fascinated by education. He spent a whole year traveling around the country going to different public schools to try to figure out what’s working. And what he found was there are a lot of teachers who are doing incredible things in the classroom.
Number one, they're giving kids a sense of purpose by bringing real-world problems to the classroom. One example that everyone loved was instead of teaching a basic math and writing class, there's a teacher who is having kids learn how to run the school. They’re learning how the systems work and how the accounting system works, and they were actually running the school. So you're still learning all the same things that would’ve been in the classroom, but you're applying it to something that they can see every day. And there's a sense of pride built in helping to run the school.
So when I talked to teachers, I think the teachers in Michigan just feel so demonized and beat down because this is a state where the DeVos agenda has been the law of the land for the past decade. Teachers feel undervalued, they feel like their legislators have never set foot inside a classroom, but keep laying out these arbitrary expectations, rules and laws that seem to change every year. It's become harder and harder to do the job.
The most important thing to me is trusting teachers to do their job. They are experts and I want to make sure that we are crafting legislation about education that is led by a focus group and a group of teachers who are providing solutions. Teacher who are showing what really works. I think when we can get excited teachers back into the classroom then we can stop the teacher shortage, and we give them autonomy over the classroom and make sure they have the resources they need, which is more counselor, paraprofessionals, psychologists.
I think we have to get past this model where we're demonizing old school. So I would also push the ban of for-profit charter schools. Charter schools are not inherently bad, but when you've got predatory private businesses who are running a lot of these charter schools which open up in different areas and close down in a few years, it really does hurt the student's chance of ever having success.
Your district has been helped by Republicans for at least two decades now, and it's heavily gerrymandered. What are the unique challenges running as a Democrat in this district?
Yeah. So this is one of those districts that's not dissimilar to some of the Virginia races where this is a high income, highly educated population that in presidential years is traditionally Democratic. But when you look at a local off year election races, Democrats tend to not turn out.
I wouldn't have gotten to the race if I didn't think there was a chance. I am not only running in what is traditionally Republican district, I'm also running against a Republican incumbent whose father was a member of Congress for 16 years. He’s got tons of name recognition and one of the most well-known names in politics of local battles.
But when I look at the district and people I know all over, it has been trending Democratic. It is a diversifying district and I think particularly women of all ages throughout the district are really tired of the divisiveness of politics. This is a district that Hillary Clinton won by six points in 2016, and there are parts of the district that are very red. But I think that when I talk to people, there is just a desire for the divisiveness to go away. So it’s definitely a challenge and opportunity. We know the number one challenge for me is just building name recognition. I think when people meet me, and they hear my background, and they hear what I want to do in the role, we've got people on all ends of the spectrum who have decided to get on board.
You've identified yourself as a progressive candidate. In your own words, how do you define progressive?
Progressive is somebody who wants to make progress, right? It's somebody who wants to move forward. So I define myself as a progressive because when I look at Michigan specifically, I think we're at a unique place that feels like a microcosm of what's happening in the rest of the country. Michigan is a state that is built on manufacturing and the auto industry and we effectively invented the middle class. There was this desire in 2016, when the state went for Trump, to hold on to our past.
I'm a progressive because I want to be inspired by our past while moving forward. So I want to make sure that we are opening up opportunities for women, that we have paid family time, that we have health care as a right and not a privilege.
What advice would you give another young person considering running for office?
It is hard. I was told in beginning, this is effectively a full-time job. I've now been running this campaign for an entire year, and I put my career aside to do that. So I think going in with an open mind and knowing this is a commitment.
Then very practically, if I had it to do again, I think the first person that I would bring onto my team would be a fundraiser. We now have a finance director who is experienced, but we brought her on months into the campaign.
Those early months, when you're getting up and running, it's the best time to raise money and unfortunately, it is a huge necessary part of running a campaign. It's incredibly challenging. Getting on the phone to call and ask for money is an uncomfortable and very unnatural thing for most people.
So I think before anything else, bringing somebody on who has experience there will set you up to be successful because everything else you learn as you go. You just dive in and just get out there and talk to as many people as possible.