Eric Swalwell represents the California 15th Congressional District. As a former Alameda County Deputy District Attorney he brings his Courtroom skills to Washington DC. Eric played Division 1 Soccer at Campbell University, graduated from the University of Maryland and also earned his law degree there. He was elected to serve on the Dublin City Council and before that the Dublin Arts Commission. He is married with two young children and a dog (we'll hear a little from all of them).
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Eric Swalwell – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to practicing attorneys about their lives in and out of the practice law. I'm Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I'm a lawyer. Nobody's perfect. He is the United States Congressmen for California's 15th Congressional District. He serves on the house, permanent select committee on intelligence.
Before that he served as a member of the Dublin City Council. And I got to know him during his seven years as an Alameda County Deputy District Attorney, Eric Swalwell, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Eric Swalwell: Lou, thank you so much for having me on. I miss being in court with you, but still enjoy staying in touch.
Louis Goodman: Well, I remember that just before you went off to Washington to take your seat in Congress, we were sitting in the old department 501 in Hayward and [00:01:00] dealing a couple of deuces.
And I just think of that sometimes. Just think about where you are now and I'm proud of you.
Eric Swalwell: I did work all the way up until the day I was sworn in and because no, it probably wasn't appropriate to be a candidate for Congress, and in a jury trial, I had to give up, you know, in the office what I love the most, doing jury trials, but I was still able to, you know, work in the misdemeanor calendar department and to the best days were when friends, like you came in and while we were on the other side of these cases, you know, we brought, I think, collegiality to the process and always tried to make sure that, you know, justice was done at the end.
Louis Goodman: Yeah, absolutely. Where are you from originally Eric?
Eric Swalwell: I grew up in Iowa. My dad was a chief of police in a town called Algona, Iowa, and he and my mom both had moved from the Bay area to [00:02:00] Iowa. And so spent about six years there and then made our way out West and ultimately settled in Dublin. So I called Dublin, California home, and went to Dublin High School and then returned back to Dublin after law school.
Louis Goodman: How was going to high school in Dublin?
Eric Swalwell: You know, growing up in Dublin, I played soccer competitively and Dublin did not have a competitive team. So I had to wear another city's Jersey. And so you got a sense of what other kids thought of Dublin? Cause I love Dublin. We'd moved around so often when we moved to Dublin and I thought we had finally made it, but then you're hanging around with kids from wealthy places like San Ramon and Danville and Pleasanton.
And so that was in part why I came back to Dublin to work on the planning commission, the arts commission and the city council to make it a great city that it is today.
Louis Goodman: You went to college on a soccer scholarship. Is that right?
Eric Swalwell: Yeah. So as much as I [00:03:00] love Dublin, just like any 18 year old, when you're looking at school, there's the urge to get the hell out. I picked a place that would pay for my college because we definitely needed that. That would allow me to play division one because I was competitive, probably still am and was impatient and did not want to sit on the bench as a freshman. I wanted to play as a freshmen. So the one school in America that fit that those requirements was Campbell University in rural North Carolina.
So I went there and played soccer for two years, got injured and transferred to University of Maryland.
Louis Goodman: How was playing division one soccer?
Eric Swalwell: Lou, I loved it. And I think I was a better student because I played meaning it's like that. Adage, if you want something done, ask a busy person. I felt like I was able to get things done academically because I was busy with sports.
And so one kind of reinforced the other. And so also just the [00:04:00] teamwork skills that you learn playing at that level.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about being a lawyer?
Eric Swalwell: Middle school. Believe it or not. I had taken a while class. It was part of like an elective course and we had a mock trial in middle school and I loved it.
I loved just the adversarial process. I loved thinking about how I present my cases. And then, when I went to high school, there was also a mock trial team. So, you know, there, I continue to participate in mock trial. And my father who was a police officer, did not have the luxury of going to college and his dream for his first born son, was that he would work hard enough so that I could go to college and law school and be a prosecutor because he really respected as a police officer, the work prosecutors played in our criminal justice system. And so that was always kind of seated in me, but you know, doing mock trial, even in college, I did it in college as [00:05:00] a college athlete, you know, really had me hooked.
Louis Goodman: Where'd you go to law school?
Eric Swalwell: I went to Maryland and the campus was not in the same location as the undergraduate campus was in the city of Baltimore. A city very much like Oakland, you know, a great diverse city. It's a sports city port city. It really is. I think, great city in our country that I learned a lot about my first year I taught street justice to high schoolers in West.
Baltimore is part of a program I participated in and really got to know the city. And I worked in the public defender's clinic. My third year for the City of Baltimore and enjoyed, you know, being on the front lines of the criminal justice system there. And then after law school took my first real job as a Deputy DA.
Louis Goodman: Was that your first job, in Alameda County DA's office?
Eric Swalwell: Yeah, that was my first job. Absolutely And it was a great job to have.
Louis Goodman: What did you [00:06:00] like about being the DA's office here?
Eric Swalwell: The history of the office, you know, Earl Warren is, you know, having come from the office, having reformed the office during that corrupt time in the County. And some of the, I would say ethics that were instilled in every prosecutor who's ever served in that office.
And I always believe, and it was told them me that we don't seek wins. We seek justice and that unlike other prosecutor, offices, where there's a lot of pressure to go to trial and to win in our office, you know, we're really looking for the right results. And if you took a case out and you ultimately dismissed it because you didn't think you had the evidence. You weren't, it wasn't frowned upon in the office because getting it right was more important than getting a win.
Louis Goodman: While you were in the Alameda County DA's office, you got interested in politics in Dublin
Eric Swalwell: You know, Lou, I had a father who served on the Dublin School Board [00:07:00] and. Yeah, that was as far as he went and politics, but he really took a lot of pride in the work that he had done.
And I came home and wanted to be involved. And so started out with the Dublin it's commission and I really enjoyed learning, you know about art in the city and how we used it to, you know, especially make public spaces more appealing. And then two years after that went to the planning commission and saw it, the city that was economically booming and then was a part of developing the city.
And then in 2010, ran for city council spot, you know, figuring that that would be a great place to play an important role, especially for young families that were moving to Dublin to have a young person on the council. Like I thought that was important.
Louis Goodman: When did you start thinking about running for Congress?
Eric Swalwell: You know, it was when Californians in 2010 passed two good government measures, one that allowed independent redistricting. So no longer would political lines be drawn by[00:08:00] politicians protecting themselves and their friends, but it would stick to geography and math, God forbid. And then also, the top two primary system that said any voter from any party can vote for any candidate.
And I thought, well, this is an opportunity, you know, to really be a voice for everyone in the district, run a consensus campaign, especially on issues of the next generation. But I also thought there were so many generational issues that did not have an audience, and I really wanted to be a voice on those issues.
And so that motivated me to step up and run.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I remember that. I, I remember talking to about that and you kind of laying out your path that you thought might be a path to victory and thinking that, yeah this was something that you had really thought about and have really come up with a plan that could work, and it did.
Eric Swalwell: It always felt a little bit impossible, a little bit in [00:09:00] probable, but you, and so many of my friends in the defense bar community went out with me on weekends and knocked on doors and introduced me to people that you knew and allowed me to make my case. And all I wanted was my day in court, so to speak, to make my case.
And I felt like we put in the work to do that. And ultimately it paid off.
Louis Goodman: Well, you certainly made your case and you certainly did the work. What do you like about being in Congress?
Eric Swalwell: It is still, I believe the greatest country in the world, a country that was imperfect tension between an executive branch and the legislative branch, but still to have the opportunity to advance issues, especially generational issues, gun violence, student loan debt, climate issues that are important to our constituents.
Louis Goodman: What do you find frustrating and difficult being in Congress?
Eric Swalwell: It moves slower than the issues of the day and the needs of people. [00:10:00] And yeah, by design, when I walk from my office to the Capitol, you walk through this tunnel that has it's about a quarter mile long tunnel.
And on the walls, in the tunnel hang pieces of art from every congressional district in the country, each member of Congress gets to pick one high school student’s art piece. And when you walked that route to the Capitol and you look at the different pieces of art that come from the different States and districts, you see, you know, this tapestry of diversity in our country.
And it makes me realize why it's so hard to get things done because. You know, what we value in California is not necessarily what is valued in other States. And so finding that common thread, that connective tissue is challenging and then it's why we move so slow.
Louis Goodman: So if a person was coming out of college, would you [00:11:00] recommend a career of law with an eye toward Politics?
Eric Swalwell: Yes. Yes. I still believe, you know, this country's worth redeeming and building better. And that the best way to do that as public service. I'm asked a lot by interns. How do I get to Congress? I tell them don't focus as much on a particular seat, focus on issues, and you'll find the seat. If you focus on the seat, you may not get the seat that you want, and that may demoralize you so much that you don't run for office, which I would hate to see. And so it would really be better to focus on issues and just trust that the issues will direct you in the best seat to serve.
Louis Goodman: How has actually being in Congress differed or met your expectations about what it might be like?
Eric Swalwell: Again, I, in the criminal justice system, Lou, you know, we would go to court and typically go, if you and I were in a trial, most likely the case would be at [00:12:00] least six months, sometimes up to three years old. And so what always felt like justice and moved slowly, never as quickly as we wanted because of the volume of cases and just lack of resources to adjudicate them, but I got to Congress and, you know, to just see, how slow things move in Congress. You know, that I wish we could, as I said, show more agility. I remember early on when I first had gotten elected. Meeting the Dean of the House, John Dingell, who is the longest serving person, longest the person who served the longest ever in Congress, passed away last year.
But he asked me who I was and what I had done before Congress. And I told him, I said, Mr. Dingell, I was a prosecutor. And I loved that job. And he said, okay, what do you love about it? And I told him how swiftly the cases would get resolved compared to what I'm seeing here in Congress. And he looked at me and he said, You know what I, [00:13:00] introduced a bill 50 years ago to have universal healthcare and I'm still working on it.
You know, this is not a place for speedy checkout. Like it's, it's not the express line at the supermarket, but again, I think that was the wisdom of our founders.
Louis Goodman: You know, we always hear about how difficult it is to be fundraising and how much time and effort people in elected office work on that. I'm wondering what that has been like for you.
And if, sort of just comment on that whole process.
Eric Swalwell: Lou, for every person that has believed in me and contributed to my work. And when I ran against Pete Stark, I was out fundraised two to one and we still won. But I would like to see in our lifetime a system where we have publicly financed campaigns or at least matching funds with lower contributions that can be matched.
Louis Goodman: If there was sort of one thing in government that you could change, [00:14:00] what do you think that would be?
Eric Swalwell: I really struggle right now with the post office being sabotaged. So I guess I'll say something functionally and then, policy is we struggle with the mail being sabotaged by the president and what that means for access to the ballots.
I really believe we should have a Manhattan project to have online voting, secure auditable, online voting. And if not, at least we tried that. We tried to secure the vote that way, but when you think about the amount of things we do in our lives, through our devices that are of great import from managing our 401ks to filing our taxes, to getting an alert from our doctor or a result or a diagnosis from the doctor, I just happen to believe that we should at least try to have online voting
Louis Goodman: Mentors, have you [00:15:00] had any in Congress,
Eric Swalwell: You know, the two that I'm really fortunate to have worked under an still call friends and mentors are a speaker Pelosi and Adam Schiff. Speaker Pelosi asked me early on to lead young people, and to create a group that would,, go across the country, listen to and learn from young people and then give feedback to our more senior colleagues as to legislation we could write.
And I did that. I called the group future forum and I went to over 50 cities and passed legislation in that realm. And she is, I mean, just a remarkable generational leader. And I've learned so much about leadership from her. Chairman Schiff. He's just a very special public servant. Somebody who is at the highest principle and integrity, a towering figure in the Congress, but leading the intelligence committee, also a coach that knows how to use everyone on the [00:16:00] team and didn't want to do it all himself. The captain of the team, but knew the strengths and weaknesses of others on the team.
Louis Goodman: I think just kind of given how polarized the country is right now that there's some chance that if we do have a change of government, That there's the possibility of working across the aisle and having a little more consensus on some issues that are just fundamentally important to every American, regardless of political Stripe.
Eric Swalwell: Yeah, we have to, and my hope is that President Biden will have a blended cabinet of Republicans and Democrats that we will spend a lot of the first months of the new administration working on reforming what Donald Trump has exposed as far as the vulnerabilities in our democracy. And that we will find Republicans who will want to do that.
There's certainly the never Trump or crowd. That we'll need a home. I mean, [00:17:00] they're so alienated now from the Trump base. And I think starting off by working with them is going to be important.
Louis Goodman: You have a young family. I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about it.
Eric Swalwell: I have a daughter and a son.
Yeah, it, you know, a little bit, it's a challenge, certainly to go East and West every week. But in many senses, the reason we do this is for our kids and my wife reminds me all the time is I have to make hard decisions about, you know, events I can't go to because of, you know, family obligations coming first, she tells me, you know, you're a better public servant because you have a family because you understand issues around childcare, you understand issues around, paid family leave, you understand, you know, mothers health issues. So I do think it's made me a better rounded, well-rounded leader on these issues because they are my issues. They are my family's issues.
Louis Goodman: What sort of [00:18:00] things do you and your family enjoy doing when you're not being a Congressman?
Eric Swalwell: Just like most families, every night after dinner, we have a trolls’ dance party. You know, the movie Trolls, which our kids love and the music is great. And so we call up the soundtrack on the Amazon, on Alexa, and dance around to that. We love that there's a local park that, you know, we love to take the kids to it and they love the water and I've enjoyed watching them learn how to swim.
Louis Goodman: Have you ever had a near death experience?
Eric Swalwell: Yeah, right before I started my clerkship in the DA's office. It was the last week of May. And as you know, the clerkship and the DA's office is the first Tuesday after Memorial is the Tuesday after Memorial Day. And I had been moving to the city that weekend to live in the city, San Francisco, before [00:19:00] the clerkship started.
And the Sunday before Memorial Day, I was driving back, a buddy was driving. I was in the right front passenger seat. And so we were driving. Right as you go from Oakland to San Leandro on 580 going East. And as we approached the Dutton exit off ramp, we were pulling a trailer and then the weight of the trailer started pushing on the SUV.
And the SUV started swerving, lost control, and we rolled off the freeway, down that slope off the freeway and ended up upside down. And my instinct was that the car was going to probably be on fire soon and I panicked, and, you know, I'd forgotten that I had my seatbelt on. And thankfully my buddy was conscious also and he undid my seatbelt and we both escaped.
And within 60 seconds, the car was engulfed in flames and we were transported to Eden hospital in Castro Valley. And we just had stiff necks, but I mean, the [00:20:00] car was torched, flipped, you know, two and a half times and pretty lucky to be alive. No one would look at the picture of that accident and think that anyone walked away from it.
And I remember thinking Lou as that car was rolling, God damn it. I'm not going to get this clerkship worked. So it was the first one that came to mind. I remember I lived in, remember as we started to roll, I'm due at the office on Tuesday. I worked so hard for this. I put everything into this interview and it was just, I thought, like I had made it because I got this offer and I just thought this is gonna stop that.
Louis Goodman: What keeps you up at night?
Eric Swalwell: You know, the fear that as a country, we've lost unity around common principles, like truth in the rule of law and American exceptionalism and knowing who [00:21:00] the good guys are in the world and distinguishing that from the bad guys and that we've been so divided and we've become so tribal about these issues that it's like Stanford versus Cal, that if you're going to the big game, It doesn't matter what your team does.
Like if anyone on your team cheats or does whatever, like you're wearing the Cal Jersey, you're rooting for Cal, no matter what. That's great for sports. That's not how it should be in politics.
Louis Goodman: Let's say you came into some real money, few billion dollars fell into your lap, and I know you'd pay off your student loans, but after you paid off your student loans, what, if anything, would you do different in your life?
Eric Swalwell: I wouldn't. I took a job that didn't pay much money, you know, as a prosecutor, I think I would be what I would like to invest in. If I ever went to the private sector and had a, you know, a [00:22:00] nonpublic paycheck, I would like to invest in first in their family, kids that go to college. That's that was the biggest struggle for me was I didn't have any institutional support around me. I didn't know enough people that had gone to college and, you know, it always felt like you were just in the middle of the sea without a life vest, not a lot of people around you to tell you like what you're supposed to do. And so, you know, that is something I want to make sure that there are still over half of Americans don't have a college degree.
There's so many who will need that set of skills to compete in this new economy. And so really focusing on the kids where it's not institutional in supporting causes like that. I think that's where I hope to be more impactful, you know, with charitable giving.
Louis Goodman: Let's say you could change one thing in the world.
You had a wish could change one thing in the political world, the government world or [00:23:00] anything. What do you think that would be?
Eric Swalwell: Yeah, for me, I really want to focus on, using technology to allow us to be healthier and live longer in legislation I've worked on in that realm. Again, gun violence is a passion because of being a prosecutor.
But investing in technologies that would allow us to essentially find cures in our lifetime, you know, especially with a family member right now who just finished chemo surgery, radiation, and knowing that so many families are going through that as well. I think putting that technology in a way that it can do more good and be more active.
Louis Goodman: Eric Swalwell. Thank you so much for joining me today on Love Thy Lawyer. You are in Washington DC these days, but we have a very soft spot in our heart for you here in the Alameda County legal community. So, well, thanks again for being here.
Eric Swalwell: We're doing a podcast and a lot of [00:24:00] my friends from the office told me they're fans of the podcast and I'm excited to be a small part.
Louis Goodman: That's it for today's episode of Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who have contributed their time and wisdom and make the show possible. Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for tactical support and Tracey Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.