Tagg Magazine: Home for the Holidays with Heather Mizeur
The state delegate talks about family traditions and her run for governor
Delegate Heather Mizeur is from Blue Mound, IL, a small town with a population of 1,100. She moved to the D.C. Metropolitan area in 1994, to work in Congress.
Since 2006, Rep. Mizeur has been an out member of the Maryland House of Delegates. She currently lives in Takoma Park, MD, with her wife, Deborah, and their dog, Chester.
She recently announced her run for governor of that state. If elected, Mizeur would become Maryland’s first female governor, as well as the first openly gay governor in the United States.
Even with a hectic schedule, Mizeur appreciates “time with family and an opportunity to reflect inward”—not only during the holidays, but also throughout the year.
She spoke with Tagg and shared her thoughts about the holidays, family, and her career.
What’s on your holiday gift list this year?
Deborah and I have an unconventional philosophy regarding holiday gift giving. We buy each other a gift when we see something that is so perfectly meant for the other person, regardless of the season. It takes the pressure off finding a perfect holiday gift and allows us to focus instead on our spiritual and family traditions. Though I must say, we do enjoy spoiling our nieces and nephews.
The gift of time is a big one for us this year. I don’t get many days off during the campaign, and [this year] we’ll have several days together, which hasn’t happened since last Christmas. We’re very excited.
Do you and Deborah have any holiday traditions?
We typically spend Thanksgiving with Deborah’s family in Northern California and try to work in an extra day or two in wine country. For Christmas, we load up the truck with our dog, Chester, and drive 800 miles non-stop to rural Illinois to spend a week with my family.
Do you have a special Thanksgiving dish you absolutely can’t live without?
Yes! Egg noodles cooked in turkey broth – a Midwestern tradition. I usually have to fight my mother-in-law for enough turkey broth, which she likes to use for the stuffing. But she more than makes up for it by baking amazing pies and fruit cobblers.
How much is family a part of your Thanksgiving and/or Christmas celebration?
Spending time with family is the definition of our holiday traditions. At Thanksgiving, Deborah’s brothers and their families typically join us in cooking and sharing the feast. On Christmas Eve, we attend church services as an extended family and go to the home of one of my aunts and uncles to eat and share stories. My sister and her husband and their three children live across the street from my parents in the tiny town where I was raised. On Christmas morning, we parade over to their house in our pajamas with coffee and gifts and watch the children open their presents.
Have your friends and family been supportive of your marriage?
Deborah and I have been together for 10 years, married for eight, and our family and friends have been extraordinarily supportive. They see the unconditional love we share and celebrate it. We often hear that others wish everyone could be in love the way we are.
You celebrate your birthday in December. Any special plans?
I hear there is a birthday fundraiser in the works!
Who is your biggest influence? And why?
At this stage of my life, it has to be my wife, Deborah. Our relationship is deeply and spiritually grounded. We are each other’s coaches helping to live up to our greatest potential, knowing our calling and how to share our gifts, and supporting each other along life’s amazing journey. We are both incredibly blessed.
What’s a little known fact that people would be surprised to know about you?
I own a small sailboat and some day intend to have enough free time to sail it again. There are few things I love more than being on the Chesapeake Bay.
You have a great relationship with Melissa Etheridge. How did your friendship begin?
We met in 2008 when I was an undeclared superdelegate. The Obama campaign asked her to call and try to win me over to support him. She and I had an immediate rapport as two Midwestern girls who loved politics. She invited me and Deborah to meet her before one of her upcoming concerts. I spent time with her again at the Democratic National Convention later that summer. We really bonded over several days there and stayed in touch via phone and e-mail. She and her family stayed at our house for 10 days during the Obama inauguration in 2009, and the rest is history. We are like sisters now. We text each other loving and supportive messages frequently. She is an incredible human being.
What led you to get involved in your community and politics?
I’ve always said that I got my start in politics in the labor movement. My father was a member of the United Auto Workers and I learned a lot growing up in a union family. When I was 9, my father and his co-workers went on strike for six months, fighting for fair wages and benefits for their families. On the picket lines, I learned what it truly means to have the courage of your convictions. I also learned a lot about what it means to bring sides together and reach an agreement. I was born an activist but I was raised to be a leader.
When did you know you were ready to run for governor of Maryland?
The energy and momentum and enthusiasm behind my ideas and my vision for the future of Maryland propelled me into this race, and they grow every day.
I spent much of 2012 traveling across Maryland talking to voters about marriage equality, the DREAM Act, and re-electing President Obama, and I was getting a lot of encouragement to take a look at this race. I love this state and I think there’s a lot more we can do to ensure that our government works for all Marylanders. Too many families are settling for less than adequate schools, jobs, and neighborhoods. We need a new kind of governing – one that puts people before politics. At a certain point, I just wasn’t willing to wait in line for a chance to propose a different path forward.
What sets you apart from your colleagues running for office?
It’s time to fundamentally change the way we do business and the way we govern in this state. That starts with a different kind of candidate running a different kind of campaign.
We need to have the courage to take on big challenges with systematic solutions. Take education policy and closing the achievement gap as an example. All three candidates in the Democratic primary have released plans on early childhood education; we’re just going about it differently. My approach is bigger and comprehensive. It needs to be to make a real difference. Instead of just covering 4-year-olds, calling it universal pre-K, and marking off a liberal political checkbox that shows we are for early childhood education, we also expand pre-K to 3-year-olds and strengthen our child-care subsidy program and fund comprehensive after-school and summer programs for our youth. Our approach to closing the achievement gap cannot start at the age of 4 when we know the problems start much earlier.
But it’s not just education. As we continue discussions with the voters over the coming months, you’ll see on issue after issue that I’m really out here, working with Maryland families to make their lives better, while the guys play politics and deliver talking points. I would put both my record and my vision up against any other candidate running for governor.
How can women living in the D.C. area and Delaware support your campaign?
I need your time, your talent, and your treasure. This campaign is not just about me—it’s about what we can do when we all come together. The election won’t be won by special interests, lobbyists, or backroom deals in Annapolis. It comes down to which candidate’s vision creates a large enough movement of people to win on Election Day and then lift our communities up when we govern.
You’ve been a member of the House of Delegates for more than seven years. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
In terms of a specific piece of legislation, it has to be extending health insurance to more children. When I first arrived in Annapolis as a legislator seven years ago, I was frustrated to see that nearly 100,000 children in Maryland were uninsured even though they qualified for the state’s health-care program. I was told we were never going to find a way to reach those families, but I rejected that notion and pushed through a bill called “Kids First,” which puts a checkbox on the state tax forms asking families to report whether their children have health insurance.
We now have two critical pieces of information in one place – how much money a family earns and whether the children are insured. State workers now do rapid outreach and enrollment to these families and as a result, in the past two years, 50,000 more children have received health insurance, and the federal government has rewarded our innovation with nearly $80 million in performance bonus grants.
I’m most proud of the way we have governed. For our district, we have done our best to answer, and when appropriate, act on, every constituent concern that comes our way.
But being in the state legislature is not just about taking care of your own geographical area. As a delegate, I took on challenges all over the state. That’s why I made school construction in Baltimore and opposing fracking in western Maryland such huge priorities. Maryland is one community. Not one part of the state should be settling for just good enough. If we are going to move forward for the better, it has to be as one Maryland.