The Final Word | Michigan Speaker Lee Chatfield

11/20/2019

By Jane Andrade

Lee Chatfield (R), 31, is the youngest speaker in Michigan in more than 100 years and is currently the youngest speaker in the country. First elected to the House in 2014, Chatfield was a high school teacher, coach and athletic director. He earned a master’s degree in public policy from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

What are the advantages and disadvantages being in a leadership position at a young age?

I don’t view age as a hindrance to those in leadership as long as they surround themselves with people who have experience. I do believe, though, that with age and experience there is a potential to become entrenched in your position. I’ve approached this position with an open mind and a fresh perspective and understanding that I don’t have the answers to everything. If there’s one thing the people of our country have proven in the past couple of elections, it’s that they don’t necessarily value experience. They want a fresh perspective and someone who is going to speak their
mind willingly and freely. That can happen at any age.

What effect do Michigan’s term limits have on your approach to leading?

I do believe I would not be speaker had there not been term limits, and the stringent term limits in Michigan and other states lead to an element of inexperience at the helm. That’s why I’ve surrounded myself with people who challenge me and lead me down the path of experience.

What led you to make government transparency a priority?

I think trust in government is at an all-time low in our country. To restore that trust between the people and government we need to have openness and transparency.

You and your wife have five children. What has parenthood taught you?

My children have taught me that you don’t get everything you want. Parenting is all about negotiating, and I take that and implement it in government every day.

What drove you to run for office?

It was partly the lesson I learned from my father that you either put up or shut up. If you’re not happy with what’s going on in society, then get involved. Our communities or churches or whatever sector you’re involved in aren’t short of complainers, but many times we’re short of doers.

What life lessons did you learn from coaching?

You’re not always going to win. Even though I was a teacher, I was a big believer that you learn more life lessons on the soccer field or basketball court than you do in the classroom. The importance of being a team player was a big lesson for me growing up. You’ll never win unless you work with others and try to find your role and perform it well. That’s probably one of the biggest elements that’s lost today, certainly on the national scene. We all feel the desire to placate a base rather than come up with good, sound public policy.

What would surprise people most to learn about you?

I tend to be very conservative in my beliefs regarding public policy, but I understand there’s a need within government, and certainly the divided government in which I serve, to reach a consensus. And reaching a consensus requires a certain element of compromise. Many at the beginning of my political career believed I was going to have an all-or-nothing approach but found out very quickly that when you approach something as all or nothing, you normally get nothing. If it’s my way or the highway, you’re normally walking down the highway alone.

What final words would you like to share?

I’m an eternal optimist and avid Detroit sports fan. Because of that, I still believe that the Lions will win a Super Bowl in my lifetime. It’s destined to happen.

Jane Carroll Andrade, a contributing editor, conducted this interview, which has been edited for clarity and length.

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