House work becomes satisfying routine when helping others

November 20, 2011
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Brandon Dillon has served the east side of Grand Rapids as its state representative for 11 months now and is about halfway through his first term. The long days, constant work sessions and repetitive drives from home to the state capital and back don't bother him. All of the routine is fine with him. So is calling him "Andy."

"There were a few representatives early on who confused me with (former House Speaker) Andy Dillon, and I've had to set them straight," he said, laughing. "That was a big challenge early on in the campaign last year because some people did not differentiate between me and him. As you can recall, there were a lot of people that didn't like him, even though he is a good guy. So there have been a few people call me 'Andy' here and there, which is fine. I wish I had his hair."

Dillon said he loves his job and considers it a unique opportunity, despite having to work up to 70 hours every week the Legislature is in session. He likes being part of the decision-making process and being able to have input into that process.

"But the main reason I got into politics — putting any partisan affiliation aside — is to try to help people and to be able to help constituents who have a problem or have an issue that they feel is important," he said.

"I think the most rewarding thing is when you are doing something that is actually helping people, whether on an individual level or for a group of people. That's a rewarding experience. The job is tough and sometime it's very frustrating, but I wouldn't trade it for anything." he added.

Dillon developed his interest in politics through his family, which easily has enough members to field its own caucus. His father has three brothers, while Dillon is one of five children. While growing up, he spent a lot of time at his grandfather's house where politics was often the main topic. He said half of his relatives were Republicans and half were Democrats.

"There were a lot of very spirited discussions when we'd go over there for holidays and Sunday nights. I ended up gravitating to my grandfather's side of the argument, which was more on the Democratic side. And my desire to argue came from my uncle, who is a lawyer," he said. "So I think my interest was sparked by my grandfather (Hugh Dillon), who passed away just about two years ago."

Dillon said in high school, though, he thought he was a Republican like most of his friends. But while studying at Grand Rapids Community College, he became aware of then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton's campaign for the presidency. "My grandfather was a big supporter of Clinton early on, and I kind of became one, too, and ever since then I've been a solid Democrat," he said.

Dillon is a Grand Rapids native who has spent his entire life here except for a period of roughly five years. He went to Ireland to study for about two years as part of his experience as an Aquinas College political science student, and then returned later to work at a hotel on the isle. "It was great. It was a long time ago, but it was fun," he said.

Since he has been in the House, Dillon has discovered something interesting. He pointed out that there are three Aquinas College alumni currently serving in the House: fellow Grand Rapidian Roy Schmidt, Phil Cavanagh of Redford and Dillon.

"The three of us believe that Aquinas has the largest percentage of state representatives per student in the Legislature," he said with a chuckle.

"Well, no one has repudiated it yet and we're continuing to say it. There are three of us out of 110 — and Aquinas only has 1,200 students, so we're pretty confident that we've got the largest delegation per how many students each school has."

He also left Grand Rapids for about three years to study and work in New York and Boston while he was a graduate student at Northeastern University. Before he earned his advanced degree in poly sci, Dillon experienced what he said was the biggest break thus far in his career. In his last semester, he was scheduled to take a health policy class taught by former Massachusetts governor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.

"I heard it was the toughest class, and he was the toughest professor. I wasn't much looking forward to it, so on a whim I applied for an internship in Sen. Ted Kennedy's office. And a day before the class was going to start, I got the internship. The school allowed me to apply that for credit so I was able to drop the health policy class," he said.

Securing the internship led Dillon to his first political job at a consulting firm headed by Jim Spencer, former chief of staff for Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II.

"He said anyone who could do an internship for a Kennedy could work for him. So that's how I got started, and fortunately, since then, I haven't been unemployed," he said. "If I would have had to take that class, my life would have turned out a lot different."

Dillon recently married Tammy, his second wife. They have three children: Kaya, who is 14, and twin sons Sean and Paul who are 8. Tammy works in the elections department at the Kent County Clerk's Office as an assistant to director Sue deSteiguer. Dillon said he met Tammy two years ago as a Facebook friend, and she told him she had a book she wanted him to read.

"I said I'd read it if she went out on a date with me, and the rest is history," he said. "I never finished the book." The book is considered by some politicos as a classic conservative — even libertarian — manifesto: Ayn Rand's 1943 novel "The Fountainhead."

"It was a long book. It was one that I really didn't want to read. I told her I'd read 'Fountainhead' if she read 'Rivethead,' which is a great book by Ben Hamper about working on the line in Flint in the 1980s. I finished about two-thirds of 'Fountainhead' but couldn't finish any more. I get distracted easily," he said, laughing. "She reads a lot. She reads everything under the sun."

The twins play Mighty Mite hockey and aren't identical in either physical stature or personality. Kaya is a freshman at City High School and a good student. "She's a really smart kid. She could be better. She could work harder, obviously. But she is a good student. She likes City High a lot," he said.

Dillon recently volunteered to serve on the board for First Steps, a local nonprofit that provides services for infants and young children across the county. "But right now, my time is mostly focused on getting to and from Lansing and shuffling the kids to hockey three and four days a week. That's really all I have time for right now," he said.

Dillon served on the county commission for a term and called that time an enjoyable experience with a good group of people. As for his immediate future, Dillon said he plans to continue representing the city in Lansing and working to put Democrats back in charge of the House.

"I think divided government has its benefits and I'll be working very hard to do that. But other than that, just enjoy my time in the Legislature trying to do the best I can and continue to raise my kids."

Does he plan to run for a second term? "Absolutely."

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