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PoliticsI am Tracy Van Houten, a Rocket Scientist & mom running for US Congress. AMA!

Mar 10th 2017 by Tracy4Congress • 18 Questions • 6541 Points

Hey Reddit, I am Tracy Van Houten, an aerospace engineer who has designed missions to Earth orbit, the surface of Mars, and Europa. I love my job as a Rocket Scientist, but for years I've been feeling gravity pull me towards life as a public servant, I would become the first ever woman engineer in Congress. This is my first campaign, and my first AMA, so I'm just as excited as all of you about the opportunity to engage with the community.

I am running for Congress in the California 34th district, including Downtown LA, Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock, Highland Park, and other neighborhoods. The special election primary is April 4th.

Want to learn more about what being an Aerospace Engineer is like? Want to ask a question about the campaign? Curious about what I will do in Washington?

Ask away!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Tracy4Congress/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Tracy4Congress

Website: https://tracyvh.com/

Proof: http://imgur.com/a/d5TDE More Proof: https://twitter.com/Tracy4Congress/status/840265718557958144

Q:

are you related to milhouse van houten?

A:

I love that this is currently the highest up-voted question. Where is my hubby when I need a witty Simpson's comeback?

My political advisors are frantically waving their hands and demanding I stay far away from any association with Milhouse.


Q:

What's the weirdest advice you've gotten from other people running (or have run) for Congress?

A:

Favorite comment / advice so far was "How are you going to do this? As an engineer, you're trained to tell the truth, if you go to Washington, you'll need to learn how to lie!" For the record, this campaign relies on facts and reason in this world of alternative facts, no plans to learn the art of lying!

And not so sure this is weird, as much as annoying, but as a woman running for political office, I knew I might get feedback on my appearance and demeanor more than male colleagues would. I just wasn't expecting it to happen so quickly. In one of the first candidate forums I participated in, I got a ton of great feedback, and was then told by 2 different guests at the event that I both smiled too much during my speech and that I should smile more while speaking. From the very same speech! Can't please everyone!


Q:

Beyond issues of science which you have tons of expertise in, how do you plan on learning about, and deciding on issues which you are less knowledgeable about?

A:

Hi peipeipei, thanks for the insightful question. I know that I have a lot to learn about fields other than my own -- and as a life-long learner, I am eager for the challenge. As such, I have been and will continue to attend briefings from local leaders and commissions on every issue we can find, be it homelessness, hate crimes, affordable housing, employment, foreign policy, or anything else. Beyond my career, I have been highly involved in public education advocacy, leadership development of young women around the country, and active in the issues of my community. My staff and I are daily putting several hours into policy research, analysis, and reports. From listening to voice memos prepared by staff while I drive to and from meetings with local groups and constituents, to staying up late catching up on the news of the day, I am committed to broadening my subject matter expertise each and every day. The efforts have paid off, I've performed well in the candidate forums and have been able to speak in depth on the actions I would take in Washington on a wide range of topics. I am no stranger to intense learning, as a systems engineer, it's been my job to jump into a situation where I know very little, learn as quickly as possible and then lead the engineering team to successful, balanced solutions. There's no substitute for the engineering work ethic and willingness to learn, but I couldn't do it without the fabulous team supporting this campaign, shoving as much knowledge into my head as possible!

I should also note I get my information from a wealth of credible sources, on all sides of the political spectrum, and I have been reaching out to friends and family members whose political views are different from my own to make sure I truly understand the complexities and nuance of the complicated problems facing our communities.


Q:

Best of luck to you.

What is your stance on the education system?

A:

Our public education system is our most valuable asset as a community and nation, and we must prove that in our policy and budgeting decisions. I am a product of our California public schools and am proud that my children attend a wonderfully diverse public school with dedicated teachers and staff. We need to ensure that all children in this nation have access to quality public education. My mother was a public school teacher, and my husband has worked in public schools for 14 years, currently teaching at a community college. I have been an advocate for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in our public schools and have volunteered at many public schools for the past 17 years. As a side note, I usually add an "A" in for Arts to make STEAM education.

From the classroom to student support services to free lunch programs and after-school opportunities, we need to invest in pre-K, K-12, and higher education to continue growing this nation as a global leader. Here in Los Angeles, the high school graduation rate is barely above 60%. This is unacceptable. Our children deserve a shot at a successful future and we are not setting them up for it. And following high school, we need affordable higher education. I would bring forward policy to significantly reduce college tuition. Additionally, college doesn't need to be the path for everyone. I would work with our local labor organizations to connect high school graduates and veterans to their apprenticeship programs. Instilling work ethic, a skillful trade and almost immediate compensation and benefits for them and their families.


Q:

As a voter in the 34th I'm curious what distinguishes your political views from the large set of other candidates?

What policies or issues would you be willing to cross the aisle for and support in a bipartisan manner? Surely there are certain issues that you could see working across party lines for.

I see a lot of the candidates provide a platform of simply "resist" but what are the proactive things you will strive for?

A:

Hi greenglobus, thank you for the great question! I would be happy to work with members across the aisle to keep our environment safe, to keep small businesses growing and successful, to invest in green jobs in manufacturing, distribution, recycling, and promoting responsible infrastructure development and repairs. The 34th district would benefit greatly from responsible, environmentally friendly developments in transportation and affordable housing, which would furthermore create local jobs and stimulate local spending, and I would work with any group to get things done. I am not a career politician, my particular discipline within aerospace is called systems engineering, and in this role it's been my job for more than a decade to bring differing engineering and science disciplines together at the table to yield a negotiated, successful process and product. I had to build consensus among a variety of viewpoints and biases to get spacecraft off the ground. I will use this experience in collaboration and consensus-building, while safeguarding progressive values on the environment, equality, and civil rights everyday in Washington.

I'd welcome any follow up questions you have specific to your concerns for the district!


Q:

Best of luck to you. Open the floodgates on this...Just tell us...are aliens real?

A:

If I told you, I'd have to...nevermind.

I'm sure all of us in aerospace would love to come face to face with the little green guys running around Mars, but the reality is that any life found is likely to be microbial in nature. But the search for life is what drives most of us in this field to do what we do!


Q:

How often does someone say "it's not exactly rocket science" to you?

A:

Oh man. My family uses this against me all the time. If I do something stupid at home, I get a chorus of "it's not Rocket Science!"


Q:

Hey Tracy, sounds impressive -- and I think it's important that science gets a voice on Capitol Hill. Why do you think it's so important?

A:

Specifically, it is imperative that science get a seat at the table in standing up to Trump and Pruitt, to hold the line in response to their climate change denial. And science is based on fact, truth, and reason -- three things that are essential in battling this administration's "alternative facts."


Q:

Need any help with campaigning? I was in DC this past summer for an internship and after coming back home to LA I almost took an internship offer in Congresswoman Judy Chu's DO but decided to pursue a paying job instead. However I do miss working so closely in politics and hope to make a comeback.

A:

Thanks for that question…“Who knew campaigns would be hard?”! (Sorry, bad Trump joke). Every person who has supported my campaign has made a tangible difference in getting us to where we are today; given the short period we have to spread the word about this Special Election (there’s a lot of confusion regarding the many varied elections happening in Los Angeles now), the answer is yes! My team can use help in several areas. Please reach out to #TeamTracy directly, you can contact us on Facebook or Twitter @Tracy4Congress, and all our contact info is also available on the campaign website tracyvh.com. I encourage you to come by our campaign office in Eagle Rock— always open to the public; and/or join us at local Neighborhood Council Meetings around the district. We'd love to have you!


Q:

Hi Tracy, thanks for doing this! Can you tell us about what lessons you've learned in mission management at JPL that you'll take to Congress?

A:

Hi robot_science- So many applicable lessons. A note about what we do at JPL:

Every mission we do at JPL is unique; every job we take on is a first-time challenge to which we don’t know the answer yet, and the missions we formulate are as complex as they are ingenious.

Working on missions of this nature, I’ve learned that management is not only about (1) thoroughly understanding the task at hand, (2) planning efforts and resources accordingly, or (3) assessing and responding to risk; but it’s fundamentally about (1) problem-solving, (2) informed decision-making, and (3) building diverse, effective teams. All these lessons are universal to "the practice of technical management" regardless of what arena they're applied to. Political Science, Social Science, or Rocket Science.

As a woman who’s held many leadership roles in a male-dominated field, I’ve learned a few other lessons that transcend professional boundaries. These lessons include (1) speaking truth to power is imperative when major consequences are at stake, (2) that when women take on management positions, it sets a precedent for other women to do the same (ie. leading by example is the most effective way to cultivate change), and (3) when women have a seat at the table, the process becomes more responsive and equitable for all.


Q:

How long did it take for you to put a gravity pun in this ama?

A:

Ha! Actually the gravity pun is a new one we've just started rolling out this week. It originally appeared in a post I did on Pantsuit Nation for International Women's Day. (https://www.facebook.com/Tracy4Congress/) We have been using things like "help Tracy blast off to Washington" and the like up until now.


Q:

But for real-Who do you think will win the race to put a man/woman on mars, private industry or a government?

A:

I'm likely considered biased here, but I believe it will be government. Landing on Mars is tremendously difficult, I was a part of the Curiosity rover team and am now the test program lead for the Mars 2020 rover at JPL. The challenge with Mars is the atmosphere -- there's not enough atmosphere to slow you down significantly enough upon entry like at Earth, but there's just enough that you have to deal with it so you don't burn up. Point is, landing on Mars is nothing like landing on the moon and at this point NASA has had the only successes - 7 times, all projects from JPL.


Q:

Thank you for doing this AMA ma'am!

I noticed that Measure H passed and this is an extraordinary thing! My question is in two parts: A) what programs are in place as of today to make sure this measure is successful? B) Are there going to be future programs in place to improve upon the current ones?

A:

Great question! With over 47,000 homeless in Los Angeles alone, Measure H sets us up to work with local organizations who have experience working with our homeless populations and helping them get back on their feet. Measure H was drafted by the LA County Homeless Initiative (a coalition of government, faith communities, neighborhoods, individuals and nonprofit stakeholders who work on this cause) and approved by the County board of supervisors last year. LACHI works across our county and this small county sales tax increase will fund the work that many organizations already do, including mental health, substance abuse treatment, healthcare, job training, housing subsidies, case management, battered women, transportation and more.

The C3 Outreach Team is doing tremendous work in doing direct outreach to our homeless populations. They are out there talking to folks sharing medical care, resources and providing options to those who perhaps just don't know how to take the first step.

We need to make sure our residents have access to education and tools they need to find their own path to success and I believe that Measure H helps us get there.


Q:

Do you really think you're qualified to be in government?

I mean, have you ever even been on reality TV?

A:

Hahahahahahahahaha! One of my team members, Connor, just read this one out loud and I nearly spit green tea all over my keyboard.


Q:

What are the biggest concerns or challenges facing the 34th district? How would you engage with other community concerns active in the area?

A:

The California 34th is beautifully diverse. With over 65% Latino residents, immigration is the leading issue. I believe that the engine of American progress is fueled by immigrants. While national security is a top priority, the current administration's immigration policies are not based on facts. As a rocket scientist, I operate in truth and facts.

Extensive research shows noncitizens are less prone to criminality than US-born citizens. The current screening process for all refugees is already incredibly comprehensive, lengthy and thorough. Dividing our families is absolutely unacceptable. I will push for and support legislation that requires ICE agents to wear body cameras to help ensure transparency and accountability and I will be an ally for groups fighting for comprehensive immigration reform here in LA and in DC.

Engaging with other community leaders and organizations is paramount to creating real, tangible solutions that have immediate positive impact in our communities. I won't just build teams and coalitions to address our greatest challenges but I will hold our leaders and stakeholders accountable to the decisions they make that impact Angelenos.

I've highlighted immigration here, but would love to discussion additional concerns -- will have to leave that to other responses here on the forum, trying to get to everyone. You can check out the website TracyVH.com for more info.


Q:

I like your shirt. You're not in my district, but I have friends who are.

What are your opinions on the future of our energy production? Does nuclear power have a role? Do you support (the currently legally tied up) Clean Power Plan?

A:

Hi Kakesh, I believe the current administration is attacking science and reason and with that our environmental protections are at stake. Our country has been a leader in creating clean energy solutions and been the leader on innovative design and technologies that incorporate green energy into our daily lives. Our energy dependence must shift from non-renewable sources like coal and oil to wind and solar. California has been a hotbed for innovation in developing these technologies that allow us to capture energy from renewable resources.

Nuclear power does play a role in achieving our goals. According to the Plan, Nuclear energy accounts for nearly 20% of the power produced in the U.S. and is a reliable, carbon free generation source. What the Plan does is provide states leverage in achieving their clean energy goals and creates incentives for clean energy technologies (including nuclear power) so our country can remain on the forefront of innovation.

As an engineer I operate within a world where science, reason and facts drive decisions. We all know that our country's reliance on energy sources cannot be flipped overnight and that's why I support the Clean Power Plan. It is a solid tool that can help guide our country toward a cleaner and less-polluting member of our planet. The plan offers achievable standards for power plants for smooth transition away from oil & gas and it also allows states to "customize" their goals in reducing their own carbon footprints.


Q:

What is your campaign strategy?

Thank you for running, best wishes!

A:

We've built a strong team of experienced and local campaign staff from all different backgrounds. Our team's campaign strategy is to put the voter first. Because I'm not a career politician, I entered this race with no special interest or establishment money. This helps our team stay focused on what's most important. The residents. The voters. The people who we see everyday at the coffee shop, at the park, in our schools. It is important that we reach out into our neighborhoods face to face, have real conversations about the issues they face on a daily basis and then turn those into solutions. As an engineer, it is literally my job to identify where the problems could arise and then build a team that can find a solution. Our strategy is to lift up the voices of the 34th, to bring the amazing stories to the forefront and then find solutions so all Angelenos benefit.

Because I have a different background than any other candidate, we have been receiving great support from all over the country. Putting the first woman engineer into Congress instead of playing politics as usual is the perfect remedy to the alternate fact universe we are currently living in. This is creating a movement that we hope will inspire the next wave of women and STEM leaders to run in 2018.


Q:

Do you use the phrase "It's not rocket science"? Since you would know better than almost anyone.

A:

Of course, wouldn't you?