Denizens Co-Founder Julie Verratti Chosen as Maryland Gubernatorial Candidate Alec Ross’ Running Mate (Interview)

Julie Verratti, co-founder of Denizens Brewing Company (Silver Spring) has agreed to serve as running mate to Alec Ross, a Democratic candidate for Maryland governor. Recently, I sat down with Ross and Verratti for an interview, to discuss Verratti joining Ross’ campaign as a candidate for lieutenant governor. 

Below is a transcript of that interview. 

ME: Alec, tell me a little bit about the decision-making process that led you to Julie to being your running mate.

ALEC ROSS: There were three things that I was looking for. First was a combination of government and business executive experience. There are more than 81,000 employees in state government. In my own background — as somebody who ran a small business, who then served in the Obama administration and had thousands of government employees — from that, I know you actually have to know how to manage a business, but you also have to know how to manage a government.

The thing one that I was looking for was executive experience in business and government, which she has as presidential management fellow as a senior adviser at the Small Business Administration, where she worked on issues like the Affordable Care Act and women in entrepreneurship.

Thing two that I was looking for were shared values.

My wife and I have made a lifelong commitment to live in Maryland. We’re raising our three kids here. When I close my eyes and think about Maryland values, Julie Verratti and her wife Emily Bruno are the essence of it — the values of diversity, entrepreneurship, and activism.

Third, Julie and I both have our eyes on what’s next.. the future.

In this race, it feels to me like 1968 vs. 1998 vs. 2018.

Some of the people I listen to, it’s like they want you to close your eyes like you’re Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, where click your heels together and say, “There’s no time like 1968.”

Others, some of the career politicians I listen to, and it’s sort of the same democratic talking points from 1998.

I want our campaign and I wanted my running mate to be somebody that has sort of eyes on the future — and that’s Julie. We put three people through the vetting process. One was an elected official, one was a formerly elected official, and the third was Julie.

And, ultimately, it was sort of a unanimous decision that Julie was the right way to go based on those three things that we were looking for.

Me: When you say you are looking to the future, what is that vision you see that you’re trying to bring people along with you to get to?

JULIE VERRATTI: I have long felt that my voice has not really been represented in the Democratic party.

I am a lifelong Democrat, don’t get me wrong on that. But at least within the last decade or so, I have seen, in both parties, this extreme that kind of goes to the right for the Republicans, this extreme that goes to the left for the Democrats.

That voice that is more toward the middle is just not there anymore. At least, not in terms of the political leadership that I’ve seen and in terms of the talking points of the party. And for me, I am someone who brings very progressive values, as well as business sense and common sense and practical solutions.

That’s a message that I’m very excited to bring to this ticket.

ALEC: Progressive values and business sense — that’s really it. 

I think the shared vision we have is talent exists everywhere in Maryland. There’s talent in every zip code in Maryland. But there’s not opportunity in every zip code in Maryland.

I think the other thing we have in common is we wanted to be the case that more people from more zip codes have the skills to compete and succeed in tomorrow’s world. But it’s really framed by progressive values and business sense.

When you run a brewery, at the end of the day, your idealism has to match to being able to make payroll.

JULIE: It’s true and I bring to the table the experience of not just working in federal government on high-level policy issues, but also being a small business owner and even more precisely, an owner/operator. I spent all day yesterday making beer deliveries because we didn’t have enough staff that could handle doing all of it.

I understand what it’s like when you have to drop on a dime and being able to be a part of an administration here in Maryland that has that perspective every day and any decision and policy we put forth, I think is really important.

When you run a brewery, it’s a manufacturing company, but it’s also retail and hospitality, and it’s also a wholesale distribution business, and it’s a restaurant.

You’ve got all of these different things that you deal with every day. And even though it’s one business, you’re interacting with all different levels of government — whether it’s federal, state, local municipality, county.

As someone who has, as a Democrat and a progressive person, has been through that. I have that perspective on things, and I think that’s really important to have that voice at the table.

ME: Can you share more about your background, for those who may not be familiar?

JULIE: I was born and raised in Maryland. I actually grew up in Silver Spring, and my mother still lives in the house that I grew up in. I have a twin sister, who obviously grew up here, as well. I still have a lot of my immediate family that lives here in Maryland and some of my extended family, as well.

After leaving high school, I ended up going to Montgomery College for a couple years. And while I was there, I played soccer, and I also played tennis. In fact, the second year we won the National Tennis Championship.

Honestly, one of the reasons that I was at Montgomery College and didn’t just go straight to a four-year, is that I was like a lot of people these days, just trying to figure out, “What I want to do with my life? What do I want to be?”

Being able to go to Montgomery College — first of all, the education is top-notch. They had fantastic professors and you have adjunct professors there who have real-world experience in the things that they’re teaching.

And quite frankly, it was affordable. Whereas, these days, you have to basically take out an entire mortgage to be able to send yourself to college. That was a really good opportunity to go there. 

After Montgomery College, I ended up getting my four-year degree at Brandeis University in the Boston area and continued to play varsity soccer when I was there.

After college, I started working in politics as an organizer working for the Democratic party. Same-sex marriage rights, the environment, human rights in general. I did that for a number of years. Then came back to Maryland to go to law school [at George Washington University].

When I was at law school my first semester, I worked at Equality Maryland, now known as Free State Justice, trying, again, to continue the fight for marriage equality. And also, when I was in law school, I worked as a McCleary law fellow at the Human Rights Campaign — so, I still carried that activism with me while I was in law school.

I always had a job. There was never a time that I was not working and getting a paycheck.

After law school, I became a Presidential Management Fellow, and I was working at the U.S. Small Business Administration. While I was there, I got to have some amazing opportunities.

It’s sort of this fast-track program for the federal government. It’s recruiting people coming out of graduate school, law school, MBA programs, to sort of develop them as the next leaders of the future.

I was an advisor on the Affordable Care Act, and how that was implemented, and how it impacted small businesses. I got to travel around the country and advise at the highest levels of government on that, and how small businesses were impacted on an actual, daily basis.

I also got to do work on women’s entrepreneurship on local economic development policies.

But one of the other things I’m really proud of is I helped create and implement the Boots to Business program, which is a program for veterans that are just coming out of service for them to learn how to start their own businesses using their military background and experience.

That was a really cool program to be able to work on — and while I was there, I’m interacting with small business owners every single day.

How do you not get inspired by that, seeing all the things they are doing for their local communities, for the economy, the local economy, for their own lives, and their own families?

They’re trying to build a future for themselves, and that is inspiring to be around. It should be celebrated at every level, and the background to all this, I also really love beer, and I had, you know, started homebrewing early on in law school, and Emily, my wife, also loves beer.

She would reluctantly help me to cap the bottles —

ALEC: That’s what my wife Felicity did for me. Felicity was the bottle capper.

JULIE: Yeah, and she would mostly complain. “Why is beer stuff in the kitchen right now? Get it downstairs!”

ALEC: Stinking up the apartment.

JULIE: Right, exactly.

ME: How good was your beer?

JULIE: Horrible. I’m actually not very good at making it, But luckily, our brother-in-law, Jeff Ramirez does know how to make beer. So, we partnered with him. We were able to open Denizens in my hometown of Silver Spring, which… I can’t tell you how proud of I am of that.

ME: Why?

JULIE: Because I’m proud of my hometown. I’m proud I’m born and raised in Maryland. I’m proud I still live in Silver Spring.

There are a lot of areas in the country where people grow up and then they go away, and then they never come back. Maryland is not one of those, and I still, to this day, have so many friends and family that live here that I grew up with.

I’m very lucky that I got to grow up here, and I want to continue making this state better, and I think Alec is the absolute best choice to do that.

You know, when someone like Alec asks you to serve, you say yes.

He is the leader that we need, and I’m so excited to be able to work with him, to help move Maryland to the future.

ME: Can you tell me how as a Maryland small business owner, how does that influence your politics?

JULIE: I would say it sort of solidifies my politics. I think I have always kind of had the same kind of politics.

When you’re in and around small businesses — like, my father has been a sole proprietor his whole adult life that I have known him. He worked for somebody else before I was five, but since I was cognizant and able to know what he did for a living, he had his own business.

But now I do think that anytime policy is put forth that’s going impact business community, there has to be a lens of how do we make sure that small business can do this.

We don’t have a massive team of lawyers. We don’t have an HR department. We don’t have CPAs that work for us directly.

So, whenever policies are put forth, you really need to think about that in terms of implementation. I think being an owner, operator I have lived that experience where the government has passed a law that all of a sudden we are required to comply that feels like it came out of left field, and why didn’t they ask our opinion about this, and how this is going impact us? Why didn’t we have a seat at the table to talk about this?

My idea is I want a Maryland, a country and a world where every single person has opportunity, and every single person has a seat at the table.

And I, as a small business person, I particularly believe that small businesses need a seat at the table. Being progressive and being a business person are not antithetical. It can be both.

That is a thing that I believe, and I try to put forth in everything that I do, and I try to advocate for small businesses. You know, two out of every three jobs are created by small businesses, not these massive corporations. So, if you’re not looking out for them, what are you doing? Right?

ME: Let’s change the subject for a moment. Tell me about that moment when you were asked and how did you feel?

JULIE: Quite frankly, I was shocked. I didn’t quite know what to do. I think I actually hit the mute button at one point and said out loud to myself, “What is happening right now?”

Obviously, I was very honored. I have always been impressed with Alec, ever since the day I met him, started learning about him.

Like I said before, when a leader like Alec asks you to help him out, you say yes.

Mostly, it was a shock to me, because I have not lived my life thinking, “Oh, I’m going run for office one day.”

That’s never been in the plans, never been in the cards, and Alec is really the reason why I said yes. If it had been anybody else asking me, I would have said no immediately, because, I have a business to run.

I have all these other things going on, and I’m happy with my life, and my life is going great. 

But, I will also say, my whole life I have always tried to live to be of service, and I try to say yes as much as possible. I shared this with Alec. This is one of the reasons why I came down to the final decision of saying yes.

ME: Alec, I know it was unanimous when you were vetting candidates, but when you think about what probably many consider to be the traditional choices in a running mate, a lot of people, their knee-jerk reaction is going be, “Wait, what? Where did this come from? This is not a traditional running mate choice!”

ALEC: You know, at the risk of being overly dramatic about this, I remember, it was in the beginning of 2007, and absolutely everybody was convinced that a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama would not be elected president.

We had, 43 presidents — 43 white guys.

And when I went to work for Obama, I can’t tell you how many sit downs I got from wise people, telling me, “Alec, you had a good career. This is your first big mistake, you know, this guy can’t work. This is not the kind of person we elect president.”

So, I don’t look to the past for inspiration.

I didn’t want to make sort of the boring choice with check boxes among sort of the old white guys with white shirts and red ties who have been running the state forever.

Julie and I represent an entire generation of people who are living in Maryland and committing to live in Maryland. We sort of want to write our own book. We want to write our own future of Maryland. We don’t want to have to do the same old, same old, or work through the approval process of sort of the old boys’ network.

ME: How do you think you’re going to prove the establishment wrong, Julie?

JULIE: When you think about who runs for office, who gets elected, it’s generally been this sort of farm system that people sort of moved their way up and around to get the top, right?

Clearly, Alec and I, as a ticket, we have not gone through that farm system. I am a lesbian from Silver Spring, Maryland, and when you hear that, and you think about what is the assumption of who I am? That I’m probably this super far-left progressive, and I don’t care about business whatsoever, right?

But then you add on top on that the layer that I am also a business owner, and I have that business sense along with those progressive values. I think that I represent a wide swath of Maryland. I think there a lot of people in Maryland who are absolutely progressive — as I hope everyone is — supporting LGBT rights, supporting women, supporting women, supporting immigration, all of those things, right?

But I also understand that the local economy needs to do well as well.

You’ve got to figure out ways to pay for all of these things. Having a strong economy is the backbone, and it’s the thing that you’re trying to make work.

I bring a perspective and life experience that, when overlaid with being lieutenant governor for Maryland is going to affect a lot of really positive change and welcome a lot of people to the table and get people really excited. 

ALEC: What was interesting was when I talking to my interns, and the interns in our office, and I was putting the choices [for my running mate] in front of them, and you could literally see — you actually didn’t have to listen to their words, you could just look at their body language and their response.

While I think some older and old establishment people might say, “Oh, well you should get somebody who has … you know, ticks all of these boxes,” I think for younger Marylanders, they totally get Julie. They totally get the choice of Julie.

I mean, even my daughter at dinner last night — you know, my 13-year-old daughter — I was explaining the selection, and it got her excited. The conventional pick doesn’t get the interns excited. In many respects, I’d rather get the intern excited than the fifth-term state senator.

But going back to why I selected her, I need executive branch experience, and she does have substantial government experience. She has experience as a business owner. I would argue she actually has very substantial experience and skills, it just isn’t mapped to sort of the old formula of who you look for.

ME: Julie, what is the one thing you think people are going to get wrong about you?

JULIE: There is a type that I think lesbians from Silver Spring fit, and I don’t necessarily fit that type, and that’s been my experience my whole life.

When I was growing up, I was the only girl on the baseball team for eight years.

I remember playing in games, and the boys would be like, “Oh, what are you doing here,” blah, blah, blah. And then I’d strike them out. So, I never really fit there.

I am someone who… well, what person has a flourishing career and a pass to very high leadership in the federal government and decides to quit that job and commits to totally strike out on their own and start their own business? It surprises me, you know?

I’ve been a member of the Board of Directors for the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, and you can imagine what that room looks like.

It’s me going to meetings, and I’m in a room full of mostly men, mostly older folks, very few people of color, and I sort of break the mold there. And I can relate to those people and they can relate to me, and I have very good friends that I met there, and we never would have ever met each other in any other type of walk of life or experience — our paths just wouldn’t have crossed.

I like to be the person that goes to the table and meets with people that are different from me, and gets to know them and hear their perspective, and have them get to know me and hear my perspective.

I think my whole life, I have surprised a lot of people because of that.

It’s again, there’s this type of casting that is done on women, on gay people, young people, and I think that I break that role in most ways.

ME: When you think about the Alec Ross and Julie Verratti ticket together, how would you summarize the elevator pitch of the story that you’re telling to other people?

ALEC: It’s progressive values and business sense.

I mean we in certain respects look very different from one another — I mean, a gay woman married in Silver Spring with a brewery and dogs. You know, I live in Baltimore with my wife and three kids, and we’ve had very different lives

But we do have this shared set of progressive values and business sense. That is the common core.

We lead with our pen and our heart, and we’re both kind of head and heart people — it’s sort of who we are. I think that Julie and I are a duo who are going to lock the door on the past and are going to move us fast into the future.

ME: Well, maybe it’s kind of a good message to everybody else — that you don’t have to look alike to share the same values.

JULIE: That’s true.

ALEC: That’s so right.

Learn more about Julie Verratti.

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