This episode of Dusty Jobs Podcast features our guest Congressman Mike Kelly. The Congressman shares his recent experience having the Corona Virus. He also talks about how he came into politics and his views on the current political climate. We also discuss American manufacturing and the importance of bringing back industry and what the future might bring.
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Dusty Jobs Podcast Episode 8 – Business & Politics with Congressman Mike Kelly
Narrator: Welcome to the Dusty Jobs Podcast from Imperial Systems. Industry knowledge to make your job easier and safer.
Donovan: Once again, thanks for joining us on the Dusty Jobs Podcast. We’re doing our special made in America edition. Joining us today is Congressman Mike Kelly of the Pennsylvania 16th district. Thanks for coming on today.
Congressman Kelly: Thank you. It’s good to be here. I’ve never been on a Dusty Jobs Podcast before, but being at Imperial, I’ve been here before. This is great. Glad to be here with you.
Donovan: Yeah, well we’re super excited to have you on. Mike, just tell us a little bit about yourself if you don’t mind. Maybe how you got started into politics. You’re in our district here so we just want to hear about you.
Congressman Kelly: Yeah, getting involved in politics for me really came out of a situation where in the Obama administration where General Motors had had some problems and they went to the government for assistance and they got assistance, but then part of the back part of that was then the government started to say, “Well, you’re going to have to get rid of certain dealerships, and certain people are not going to be allowed to be in business anymore.” One of the stores we have, we’re a Chevrolet Cadillac dealer…
Donovan: Because that’s your history, right? You’ve been in the car business fo ra long time.
Congressman Kelly: My mother and dad started our business in 1953. Both of them worked at a Chevrolet warehouse in Pittsburgh pre-World War II. My dad went off to the war, came back home, and back to work for Chevrolet. He was on the road for Chevrolet and in 1953 he got his first dealership in a little town called Verona in west Pittsburgh. So, you know, we got back a long way into that. In fact, if you looked at my family history the Kelly side, my grandfather Kelly was a conductor on the B&O Railroad. My grandfather on the other side of the aisle was in the fruit business. His name was McTighe (?). The other half of the Kelly combination was my grandmother, Mary Simulsburger (?), and they were in the livery business. My dad would alway say when I would say, “How did we ever get into the car business?” He’d say, “You know what, your Grandpa Simulsburger was in the livery business.” And maybe it was kind of a takeover from that, and we just kind of rolled, as it would be, into this business. So, my dad worked for Chevrolet from after the war until ’53. He got a chance to get his first dealership. He got a little one car showroom, about four service bays, and they would work seven days a week. At that time, we would stick the card – not me, I was just a child at the time. I was five years old. I used to go down to the railroad siding with my dad and he would take these cars off the train, he’d take them home in our basement. Back then you had to service the car to get it ready before you could sell it. He would do that work in our basement. The big thing then, the option, because pretty much the cars were standard, but he was good at sewing seat covers. So one of the accessories that they would sell to customers were seat covers, and my dad would make those seat covers.
Donovan: A little upgrade.
Congressman Kelly: Yes. So that’s how we get started. Moved to Butler in 1957.
Donovan: That is a great American history story right there.
Congressman Kelly: It really is, but it’s not uncommon.
Congressman Kelly: So whenever you talk to people. When you say, “How does your family get into this business or that business?” A lot of it was just generational. Although for my dad it was different. He was the first one in his family. My grandfather Kelly was upset with him. My dad told him “You know what Pop, I have a chance to become a Chevrolet dealer, and I’m going to become a Chevrolet dealer.”
And my grandfather Kelly said, “My God George, what is wrong with you? You’re the first Kelly to ever wear a white shirt to work. They even give you a car to drive for nothing. Are you out of your mind?”
And my dad said, “You know what Pop? Look, its just that I’m kind of in the business I’m in now, I can’t determine my own future. If I’m in business for myself I can. So if I’m going to work hard I want to work hard for myself and for my family.” And that’s how we get in the business. So in ’57 we moved from Pittsburgh up to Butler. Chevrolet Cadillac Agency on Main Street in Butler. In 1997, as it were, then I bought the dealership from my father.
Donovan: Oh, okay.
Congressman Kelly: So, I became the dealer operator, owner operator in Butler. Then in 2001 I had the opportunity to pick up a Hyundai franchise, bought the Hyundai franchise, incorporated it on our dealership lot, and then in 2003 or 04 I got the Kia dealership. So we’re on a ten acre site that is actually the front corner of our farm.
Donovan: Oh, I got you.
Congressman Kelly: We’ve added on and added on, and it’s been an interesting run. It’s been good for the most part, but you have those days where you say, “Oh gosh, I don’t know how I’m going to get through this.” We go through good business cycles and bad business cycles. Surviving is the key and I think any of us that are in business know that you learn from your mistakes. Surviving near death situations really makes you smarter for the next time and you’re very cautious and I think you’re forced to be conservative in your thinking, and I think you required to be because everything is on the line everyday.
Donovan: Not just for you but for the people you’re taking care of, your employees. I think that’s a great story. So fast forward. You’re owning the dealerships now. You get to the point where the government is starting to interfere? Trying to tell you what to do?
Congressman Kelly: They took one of the franchises away. I got a letter, a twenty-eight page letter. The letter is kind of boiler plate until you get to the last paragraph. It says “Sign the release form included with this communication and you’ll no longer be a Cadillac dealer or you can go and fight this and say I want to go to arbitration.” So I got a call from General Motors and the zone manager said, “Listen, we sent you a communication.”
And I said, “Yeah, it’s twenty-eight pages.”
And he goes, “What did you think of it?”
And I said, “You must be kidding me. You don’t really want to know my answer.” I said, “I will tell you this. I’m going to arbitration.”
The guy on the other end of the line started laughing. He said, “You? Mike Kelly? In little Butler, Pennsylvania are going to go into battle against the US government? You can’t possibly win.”
I said, “Well, you know what? I don’t know about that. One thing I do know is that if I don’t go into the fight I for sure can’t win, but I’m not going to back away from this. It has taken a long time since 1953 to get to this point. I bought this business from my father. I didn’t inherit it. He didn’t give it to me. I bought it from him. I’ve got a big mortgage to pay. I’m going to fight you guys tooth and nail to try to keep the franchise.” And you know what? We actually got arbitration and we win.
Congressman Kelly: Yeah, we win. Then going forward we go through that first couple years of the Obama administration. We fight the fight. We win the battle, and the next thing I know there another election coming up. There was a gal named Kathy Dahlkemper who was serving in, at that time it was Pennsylvania’s third congressional district. Before Ms. Dahlkemper the was a guy named Phil English. Phil English had been there I think about fourteen years. I got a call from Phil. He said, “Hey, are you going to be in the dealership?”
I said, “Yeah, I’m here. I gotta be.”
And he goes, “I want to talk to you.”
So he comes to the dealership and I said, “Phil, it’s really good to see you. Sorry you’re not still serving in Congress.”
He said, “Well, that was a wave election. President Obama is in office. Ms. Dalkemper is now our representative.” He said, “But what I wanted to talk about what you running for Congress.”
I said, “Me? No, no, no. Listen, I got a pretty full schedule right now. We’ve got about 150 people that expect to be payed every two weeks. I think I better stay here and work at the business.”
He said, “Seriously. We need people from the private sector serving in these positions because its too much about professional politicians and people who have never had a worry about making payroll, people who have never had to worry about taxes. They have’t had to worry about that. You may be a guy that could make a difference.”
So, I talked to my wife. I talked to my kids. My wife initially said, “Absolutely not. I know how this works. They go after your kids. They go after you. They go after your family. It’s just not worth it. It’s horrible.”
I said, “Well, the alternative is if someone from the private sector doesn’t serve, you’ll keep the same model that you’ve got going on now.”
But my kids said, “Dad, no, at least try.” So I was one of like fourteen or fifteen candidates in the Republican primary for the election in 2010, the fall of 2010. Got through the primary and then got into the general election and then won in the general election. So I went into office in 2011. So we’re finishing up since 2011. It will be ten years.
Donovan: Yeah, so you’ve been in the private sector in 2008 when things were a little bit tough. Now you’re on the other side during this current time where its a little bit, kind of getting a little tough again, huh? But you’ve gone through some tough stuff. You just had the COVID-19.
Congressman Kelly: Yeah, I had the coronavirus.
Donovan: So tell us about that. I mean, how did that affect you? How did you feel? Is there a lot of misconceptions about it out there? From your persona experience, what do you think?
Congressman Kelly: My personal experience, because we were home from Washington, and it was St. Patrick’s week in the middle of March, and we were working every day. We were working every day, and I come home from work my wife said, “You don’t look good.”
And I said, “Well thanks.”
And she said, “No seriously, you don’t look like you feel good.”
I said, “I feel fine.”
She said, “Well, I’m not sure that you do or not. You’re going to bed early. You’re getting up early to go to work, but it seems to me that you’re sleeping a lot more than you normally would.” Well, you know, I wasn’t seeing it the way she saw it. First off, you loose your appetite. I had no appetite at all. You have no sense of taste. You can’t taste things. I had muscle spasms. I had headaches. The biggest part of the coronavirus is the respiratory problem. I did not have the respiratory problem, and I had friends that had it the same time I did and they said, “Are you on a ventilator?”
And I said, “Of course I’m not on a ventilator. I couldn’t be talking to you.”
They said, “Are you on oxygen?”
And I said, “I’m not on oxygen.”
“Are you in the hospital?”
I said, “No, I’m at home.”
They said, “Really? What do you think the difference is?”
I said, “Well, you know early on my wife said “Please go get tested for this.”” So the test is a long swab they insert up your nose and really you think its going to come out the corner of your eye. No, I’m serious. It’s very uncomfortable. A couple days later my doctor called me back and said, “How are you feeling?”
I said, “I feel fine. Tired.”
He said, “You know what? You tested positive.”
Donovan: Oh man.
Congressman Kelly: So I said, “Okay, well Bill, then what do I do? I know I can’t be out in the public, so we’ll self quarantine for a couple weeks.”
He said, “No, this is going to be more than that for you. I want you to look into something. There something called hydroxychloroquine. Your general health is good, but I want you to read up on it, and I want you to discuss it with Vicky and see that you think. I think it’s something you may want to try, because if this settles in your respiratory system it’s something that can be very serious.”
I said, “Let me read up on it.” Read up on it. Got back to him a day or two later and said, “You know what, Bill? I’m going to try it.” So very early on in my battle with the coronavirus I was taking hydroxychloroquine.
Donovan: And that worked for you?
Congressman Kelly: And you know what, for me it worked. I know there was some controversy over it and most of the controversy came down to well if President Trump endorses it, it must be bad. Well, because, listen, with some people, no matter what the President does its wrong. But it has been since proved to be an alternative that you should look forward to. The good part about having the coronavirus and recovering fully is that you get your blood tested and I have the antibodies. So, because you have the antibodies you can now enter into this immune therapy where they will take the plasma from your blood and they’ll use that in trying to develop a vaccine that could defeat the coronavirus and maybe keep somebody alive. Easy process, painless. You go to the blood bank. They take your blood. Your blood goes right back into your body minus the plasma that was taken out. I’ve done that three times now. I’ll probably do it another three or four times. I can do it about every ten days. For that part, that’s been good.
Donovan: My wife and I also just went to give blood to see if we had the antibodies and see if we can help out. We came back negative, that we didn’t have it, but I know exactly what you’re talking about. We were actually hoping maybe we had it so maybe we could try to help out like you’re helping out.
Congressman Kelly: As I said, even out of the worst situations usually there’s something good. So for me and my situation, was I sick for a while? Yes, I was sick for a while. Uh, loss of appetite. I lost thirty pounds in about ten days.
Donovan: Oh my.
Congressman Kelly: Yeah, well I put a little bit back on. It was just because I had no desire to eat. I couldn’t taste anything. So I was trying to drink water and eat little things of applesauce. That was about it.
Donovan: So in the same way the coronavirus kind of caused you to slim down, I think we’ve seen a little bit of the slimming down of the American economy. I know you probably have a little bit of a different perspective of that because you’re seeing it more at a federal level and seeing how things are playing out. I’m just trying to get your opinion on that. How do you feel that the economy is doing right now, and maybe how it’s going to go in the future? What do you think about that?
Congressman Kelly: I think the president’s reaction right away was to go get some programs put together so working in conjunction with the Congress to come up with economic relief programs that would really help out. The PPP program is one that is very essential. We look back at that now. Over five million businesses were able to participate in this loan process. 51.1 million American workers were able to still get that paycheck. They didn’t get laid off. They were able to still get paid. I think people loose the concept of what does that mean. Well here’s what it means. If you’re not laid off, you’re not on unemployment compensation. If you’re not laid off and you’re being paid, that means you’re still contributing with your wage taxes into the Social Security and the other taxes. You get taxed on that money, and for the businesses it mean that they were able to stay open. Now in Pennsylvania Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine had decided that there’s non-life essential businesses and so a lot of businesses were forced to shut down but it wasn’t because the business had a flawed business philosophy. It wasn’t some kind of a blunder. It was something decided by the administration, the Pennsylvania administration, that these businesses would be shut down. In some cases it was controversial what was being shut down. States that surround us didn’t have the same restrictions. In some places your competing in a market where right across the state border they are wide open and yet you’re shut down.
Donovan: We’re sitting twenty minutes from Ohio right now. They were definitely on different regulations. Some of our employees are even from Ohio. We’re very familiar with what you’re saying as far as different businesses didn’t quite make the playing field as even in the economy at that point whenever that was going on. We are glad for everything that’s going on as far as the federal government and what they’ve done to try to help out. Do you see anything else coming down the line that might be kind of helping getting things going?
Congressman Kelly: Yeah, I do. I think that the president is very aware. Thank God we have someone from the private sector, not a professional politician who has never had to worry about their business being successful in order to still make payroll, and never had to worry about regulations holding you back from being able to produce a product or the service that you’ve done. You look at the regulations sometimes like, “Who came up with these ideas?” Not anybody that’s ever been in business. It’s the politicians and policy makers who have never actually walked that walk. So they’re coming up with those ideas. I’m not saying that they’re bad people. I’m saying that while they may have been well intended, they were flawed. So we look at that. I think any of us from the business world, the private world, I think we look at things so differently because we can’t afford to make a mistake. You’re walking a high wire without a net underneath you if you fall to catch you. You actually hit the ground and you get hurt. I just think that, what we’ve always been in America, we’re a country made up of people who love to work. They love challenge. They love something in front of them that people say, “You can’t possibly get through this,” and they say, “You know what, watch me. I will.” So, I think that’s basically who America is. Now I think one of the things that’s happened, though, and again, politicians making policy and not having any background in the businesses that they’re making policy for. So, why do I say that? Well, I will tell you this. When we went away from America making things in America, being supplied by America and we’ll use foreign entities because it’s a little bit cheaper. So the finished product will be a little more affordable. We found out during the pandemic that, you know what, these people from around the world are going to help you when it’s profitable for them. They’re not going to help you when it’s not. When they can take advantage of that, they’ll take advantage of that. There’s nobody that has shown up more in Americans’ mind than, I think, China. China has done a number on the United States and for years I sat and would listen to policy makers and talking about trade because the committee that I’m on, on Ways and Means, because part of our jurisdiction is trade policy I would hear people say the most outlandish things. People that grew up in America, that live in America, that represent Americans saying, “Well, I would rather it come from China. I would rather it come out of Vietnam.” I would rather, I would rather, and my question is wouldn’t you rather it came right from the state you live in? Wouldn’t you rather it came from the town that you live in? Are you kidding me? What don’t you understand? It always came down to “Well it’s too expensive sometimes to make it in America,” and I say, “The greater expense is not making in America someday, when not only our jobs but our national defense will be threatened and our national security because we’re relying on somebody from outside our country to help us to build what were building. So, I think we’re facing that right now. Like the USMCA, The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Why did the president want that renegotiated? Jobs! He said, “Why? Why would we allow this to happen?” So we did the USMCA, and it has been a lot of jobs back. He’s looking now at the other trade agreements we have around the world. I think he’s smart when he says, “You know what? I would rather do one on one trade agreements than the United States versus the Pacific, the countries in the Pacific Ocean.” No, we’re not going to do it that way. He’s got a completely different approach to it. His reason is different because he’s actually had to make payroll. He’s actually had to keep his businesses open. He’s had to actually go to banks. He’s actually gone bankrupt a couple times, and fought his way back to the top again. So you have that type of real life experience, and it’s the old story you tell your kids when they’re growing up. Be careful. Don’t touch the stove. It’s hot. All of us that have children know that a child has got to touch the stove because they don’t know what hot means. Once they’re burnt they understand it. I think America has touched the stove a lot of times, got burnt, and understands. Don’t touch that. It’s a hot stove. We’ve got to protect ourselves.
Donovan: I know for the guys in our shop, when we talk to them, one of the things that they really like is the whenever they’re buying American products it feels like when you purchase that, or when we get American steel, it’s not only that you’re helping to keep that money here, you’re actually helping to provide a job for your neighbor. You can provide a livelihood. You can pay for someone else’s kid’s college by giving them a chance to work as opposed to that money going overseas. I know in our shop and around here that’s the way we feel whenever we see that. American made, you know, and bringing jobs back to America. Do you think because of all this that we’ve experienced throughout this pandemic that this will drive some manufacturing back to the United States? I mean, do you see that coming?
Congressman Kelly: Definitely. I definitely do and I think more than anything else. I did reference the president already because his whole life has been in the private sector. Has he been successful? Yes. Has he had his failures? Yes. Has he had to fight his way back? Yes, but also now you have more people from the private sector looking at serving in public office. I don’t care if its a school board. I don’t care if its a township, working in a township, working in a county, or even at the federal level. You need to have that balance of the policy makers having actually been on the field and played and have their nose bloodied a couple times and had some defeats and learned to come back from it as opposed to people who are really good. I use this term sometimes and people get mad at me for saying it, but it’s the truth. A lot of the people I work with are great on a laptop, but they’ve never been on blacktop, and there’s a huge difference. There is a huge difference. Somebody will say, “Well, let me draw it up and I’ll tell you how it works.” Better yet, tell me what you’ve done in your life because if you’ve never done it you can’t possibly draw it. You can conceptualize, but unless you realize, unless you’ve walked that walk, I don’t really want to hear what you have to say. I’ll consider it, but I’m not buying it without actually trying it.
Donovan: Right, right. Well, I’m trying to think if there’s anything else that you wanted to talk about, or anything else we could cover.
Congressman Kelly: Let me say this because I think the key to a lot of what happens in our country, and the same right here. If I were to ask you “What is Imperial?” And you say, “Well we do this.” No, no. What is Imperial. And you would say, “I’ll tell you what Imperial is. Let me take you out in the shop and introduce you to our welders. Let me take you to our design people.” It’s all the teams that we build, right? So, we’re all looking for that talent and I don’t care if you’re serving in Congress. I have to tell you, the staff that works for Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District. They do not work for me. They work for Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District and all our constituents. They are the hardest working, most blessed people in the world. During this pandemic they have been working from home. They have been fielding an excess of 4,000 calls a week. Now, I’m not talking about fifty or sixty people. I’m talking about sixteen or seventeen people that get up every day and do the same thing everyday and that is serve, serve the constituents. People tell me, “Well, you konw, hey Kelly. I just want to thank you for what you did. I didn’t vote for you.” I said, “Well first of all, let me tell you this. You don’t need to thank me. Write up a thank you note and send it to the staff. Secondly, I didn’t know you didn’t vote for me until right now, but that’s not going to affect it. We’re going to work the best way we can to make sure we serve the people that put us in office. Getting back to what makes Imperial great is the team. What makes America great is when America is a team. I think that right now, I would hope people would look past some of the verbiage that’s out there today. I’ve never seen us more divided or more polarized as a country. When I talk to people I say, “What is it that bothers you?” Most of them will say, “Well, tweets.” I say, “Tweets? That’s what bothers you? Tweets?” What about the job market? What about your pension? What about the quality of our healthcare? What about what we’re going through right now with the police? My God. These men and women in blue that put their life on the line every day are not being chastised by a group of anarchist and vandals. When you look at the places this is happening, the people in charge of the safety and security of the people – why would they turn a blind eye to that? “They have to blow off steam.” You don’t allow people to break the law and say, “They’re just blowing off steam.” No. They’re destroying public and private property. You get arrested. You pay restitution. You don’t walk away from it. You don’t pull down our history and then celebrate it and say, “Well, you don’t know who this man was.” I say, “I do, and I know something else. You don’t have a freaking clue who you just pulled down.” So, look, our history is our history. We learn from our history. Was it perfect? No. It’s not perfect, but I will ask any of the people in America: Is there any other country that has to put up a wall to keep people out as opposed to keep people in? America is still the most desired address in the world. People go across deserts, go across oceans to come to America for the same reasons they always did, freedom and liberty. When I see what’s happening today I say, “My God, how can you talk despairingly about a nation where 1.5 million men and women in uniform gave their lives to give you that opportunity that you have today.” So please, quit looking at the TV and start looking at your life. Look at the place you work. Look at the place you worship. Look at the place you live, and tell me that you’re going to sit down tonight and make plans to move someplace else in the world because it’s just become so bad for you. It’s not true. America is still the greatest country, the greatest nation the world has ever known.
Donovan: I hear what you’re saying and I think the way I would sum it up is the way we’re going to get through this is by us depending on each other.
Congressman Kelly: Always.
Donovan: The American people and the American worker if there’s anything we’re good at is pulling ourselves up and figuring out a way to get through it. We appreciate having someone who has been there in the trenches before, and has been through a recession and is understanding how to tackle these problems in the government trying to help guide that and direct that for small businesses like us and for other small businesses out there. You have a real world perspective on what it takes to get through some tough times and how to take care of some people that have been under your care for generations. It’s great. I just want to say thanks for coming on.
Congressman Kelly: Thank you, thank you.
Donovan: Thanks for everything you said.
Congressman Kelly: I just want to leave you with this thought. A couple of years ago at our fiftieth class reunion we were sitting around with a bunch of the kids I graduated with and I said “You know what, are we the luckiest people in the world to grow up in the town we grew up in, the times we grew up in with parents and preachers and teachers and coaches? Gosh, were we lucky or what?” Now there’s about ten people sitting there and they’re saying, “Yeah, you know what? We were lucky. We were really lucky.” Except for one girl. One girl looked at me and she goes, “I don’t think we were lucky.”
I said, “Seriously? You don’t think we were lucky?”
She goes, “No, I don’t think we were lucky at all.”
I said, “Well, Linda, if we weren’t lucky what were we?”
She looked me in the eyes and she said, “We were blessed.”
And I said, “I will never again in my life tell people I was lucky. I will tell them I was blessed.” I think that’s who we are as a nation. We are truly the most blessed nation on the face of the earth with a lot of responsibility for the rest of the world and we show up. We show up. If there’s a tsunami somewhere, we’re there. If there’s a hurricane somewhere, we’re there. If there’s a tragedy somewhere, we’re there. We’ve given not only our wealth, we’ve given our lives to defend people around the world. Theres no other nation in the world that’s done that. Only in America. Only in America.
Donovan: I think we’re going to make it through this.
Congressman Kelly: Yes, yes we will.
Donovan: And we’re going to come out helping people on the other side.
Congressman Kelly: We sure will.
Donovan: Mike, thanks for coming on.
Congressman Kelly: It’s good to be with you. I love being with Imperial. This is great. We love you guys. You make great stuff. Made in America, for Americans. It’s good.
Donovan: There you go. Trying to keep Americans healthy and safe, and create a better work place for them. Thanks for all your help you’ve been for us getting things going here. We just want to say thanks for joining us on the Dusty Jobs Podcast and we hope that you listen again next time, and have a good night.
Congressman Kelly: Thank you. Thanks so much.
Narrator: Thanks for listening to the Dusty Jobs Podcast. Breathe better, work safer.