The Democratic congresswoman for Ohio's 3rd District is facing her first primary challenge since taking office in 2013.
Joyce Beatty loves the phrase “Don’t find fault. Find a way.” The U.S. representative’s mother used to say it, and it has become a bit of a mission statement for Beatty. She uses the phrase when talking about affordable housing, the Green New Deal and her upcoming Democratic primary challenge. Beatty hasn’t faced a primary opponent since she first ran for office in 2012. On March 17, constituents of the heavily Democratic 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses much of the city of Columbus, will cast their votes for either Beatty or Morgan Harper, a young upstart progressive who’s attracted national media attention and impressive fundraising hauls. The two will debate each other 1:30 p.m. Sunday at St. John’s United Church of Christ (59 E. Mound St. in Downtown Columbus).
Columbus Monthly spoke with Beatty about the 3rd District, the impeachment process and that famous exchange she had with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (This interview has been edited and condensed.)Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
How do you see the 3rd District, and how it's changed since you took office?
I think there are some significant changes when we think about the growth that we've had over the last six years. I have parts going through Downtown Columbus to the 29 municipalities surrounding it. When you look at the increase in population, the city of Columbus is almost up to some 900,000 people, and by the year 2050 they're projecting that Central Ohio could have as many as 2.4 or 2.5 million people. Growth is good, but with growth come a lot of challenges, and that's what I've seen in the 3rd Congressional District. There have been several challenges as it surrounds affordable housing. Even though reports will show that unemployment rates in some areas are down, we don't have jobs that pay enough for individuals to sustain a livable type of lifestyle in parts of the community.
This is your first primary running against an opponent since you first ran. Has your messaging changed at all this time around?
I tailor my message to the constituents in this district and to the needs of the district. It's not for me to worry about another candidate. I always have a message, and I run each time as though there are candidates running against me. I think it's very important to send a strong message to your constituents, that you care about them, that you'll stand up for them, that you'll give back to the community, and you'll get things done for them. And that's what my history and track record is, whether I have an election year or not. In the nonelection years, I do the same thing. I visit all of the sites. I'm in the community. I'm working hard, because the message comes from or responds to the needs of the community, not the needs of candidates, not a big picture that we're mimicking because someone has said here are the top three, four or five issues. The issues are what meets the needs in this district.
What is it currently like in DC with the impeachment process?
It's a historic time in Congress, and it's also a solemn time. No one jumps up and down because we're going through an impeachment process. On the other hand, you want to be engaged so you can be educated, because it's one of the questions constituents oftentimes ask you. You have a president in office who has violated the Constitution. ... I think it was the right thing to do the articles of impeachment. I think the Democratic leadership was very clear in calling in witnesses and wanting it to be a fair process. You feel proud that you can stand up for the people you represent and say to them that I am standing up for you and trying to get something done for you. While impeachment appears to be consuming the nation, government has still been going on. … The work goes on, because I will not allow this administration to consume me. When I take that last vote on Thursday or Friday, I know it's 43 steps down the Capitol steps to get in a car to go to the airport to come right back here to the district.
During a hearing with the House Financial committee in October, you questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about his company's policies regarding diversity and discrimination. What surprised me was how utterly clueless a CEO of a major corporation was about diversity and inclusion in his own company. How do you make people understand the importance of these issues, whether it's Mark Zuckerberg or a constituent in your district?
It's a culture change, and it's holding people at the top accountable, and not giving them a pass whether they're friend or foe. Facebook was a good example when you look at the number of people they employ. It opens the door. I am not clueless that this is going to change the world overnight. But here's what I'm very comfortable with: When you have someone who looks like me, who is challenging those CEOs who are also hurting and discriminating against people who look like me, you have to use that to fight for the people and get something done. You have to start at the top and not give them an out to check the box. You have to put them in a position where they have to respond back to you. … We have taken on over 50 financial institutions to require them to send us their inclusion plans. We don't want any more of this “50 percent of my folks are women and minorities,” and then we find out that they're people at the lowest paying jobs that have no possibility of being in the lineup to excel at a high level. So we said thank you for that, but that's not what we're asking for. We want to know how many people report to you, and it's not just race and ethnicity. We want to know if you have people who are veterans, people who come from rural America, LGBTQ, young people. In some of those corporations, they won't let you be promoted, unless you've already been a CEO of another company, or if you've already served on a board. We're opening the doors for millennials. We're opening the doors for minorities to be able to have equal access to those high-level positions. I think it's working. [Zuckerberg] has to come back again. He did not pass that hearing, and he will come back again and again and again. That's the leverage you have when you're in the room.
One of Morgan Harper's criticisms of you is the fact that you accept campaign donations from corporate PACs. She believes politicians who accept corporate PAC money are more likely to enact legislation that supports those corporations. How do you see it?
I don't take all PAC monies, but I do take PAC dollars, and let me tell you what it allows me to do. Some PACs, the dollars are from their employees. A local insurance company has a PAC, and they wrote to me and said, we're going to give you a PAC check because the employees have put their money into this PAC so they can have a voice. So many people were so honored, they want to know if we will host a luncheon for you to come so they can meet you. Many of the questions were about improving where they work, but they felt empowered, because I was there with them. A lot of times people don't understand that. I'll take on friend or foe. I have an incredible track record of standing up to individuals. We also have to pay dues that go into helping other candidates. Now, I'm a proud Democrat. I run on the Democratic ticket. I serve in the Democratic Caucus, and I give a majority of the money I raise back to make sure that we have other women, other minorities that are serving in Congress. … People paint a picture of, they're taking this corporate money for themselves so they no longer have a voice. No. It goes back to bring more voices that we can fight for the things that we need, not only in this country but we need in this district. It helps me provide funds to projects for seniors, opportunities for children.
You sponsored House Resolution 40 with Rep. Tim Ryan to create a commission that would study the possibility of reparations. How would you apply reparations?
I think reparations can come in a lot of forms. I believe in reparations, and I support that. I don't know how we define it specifically. What's the monetary value? How do you calculate it? How do you find it? Do we do reparations as something that allows us to move forward by being very clear that African Americans have been discriminated against? Do we go back and ask for 40 acres and a mule, as so many people say? We know this nation gave us a check marked insufficient funds. And what this legislation is trying to do is to establish how do we get our justice out of it now and moving forward. In the ideal world, it would be something that we could put in place that would allow my grandchildren and those yet born, not to have to be still asking for reparations. We're looking forward saying, where do we start with that? What are the things that we put together that the people will want? While I'm not traditionally a fan of studies, if you ask the people in my district, you will get all kinds of things. So we want to hear. There's something out there that says every black American, or everyone that is entitled to it should get X amount of dollars. We have to figure out how you fund that. We have to figure out who determines that. We want to look at what's realistic of taking our past, bringing it to the present, and making sure that we don't have to relive this again.
What are your thoughts on the Green New Deal, which your primary opponent supports?
The Green New Deal is not legislation. It's a nonbinding resolution, and one could easily sign their name on it. I didn't because I wanted more. It wasn't that I didn't like it. There are parts that I challenged and questioned openly. But here's the thing, don't find fault, find a way. I went and sat down with my colleague on my committee [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], who is the author of the bill and said, there are parts of it I love. But I'm concerned because in my district, the lack of affordable housing is a major issue. I am concerned that it's all or [nothing], that every house will have to be retrofitted to meet the standards of this in a time period that I think is unrealistic for many poor people and low and moderate income unbanked, underbanked folks who are already struggling. Some working-class, middle-class folks could be in trouble because they couldn't meet the standards. And she said, I know, but we wanted to do something bold and creative to get the nation's attention. I support that. I sat down with her and I said, let's talk about housing, and let's talk about the Green New Deal. There's another bill that people should be talking about, and it's the Green New Deal for Public Housing. I agreed with her and said, if we look at those who are the least of us economically, who are dependent on government [assistance], they should not be living in substandard places. They should be living in places that are going to keep them healthy and be of good environmental standards.