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Humble beginnings shaped political ideology of Susie Lee

Updated October 21, 2018 - 5:26 pm

Susie Lee landed her first job while she was in elementary school.

The Democratic philanthropist, who grew up in a conservative Ohio home with seven siblings, delivered newspapers when she was 8 years old. It was a much different life, she said, than the lavish one portrayed in TV ads that attack her for being out of touch because she owns 17 homes. Lee is running in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District against Republican Danny Tarkanian.

“We didn’t have much, but we had enough. We had to pitch in,” Lee recalled on a recent afternoon. “My mom taught swimming lessons at the Canton Jewish Center so her kids could swim, and then she forced us to take a shower at the pool because we only had one shower for seven girls.”

Her parents couldn’t afford health insurance, Lee said, and a heart attack left her mother $80,000 in debt. They almost lost their home. Then Lee’s father, a veteran, lost his job at age 57 and never worked again. He died four years ago.

Those experiences, Lee says, have informed her political ideology and desire to fight for Nevada families in Washington.

But the value of education was ingrained in Lee from a young age. Lee, 51, put herself through college in Pittsburgh by working four jobs, including as a cafeteria worker, caregiver and aerobics instructor.

“When I was in college, I almost dropped out when my father lost his job,” Lee said. “Someone gave me a job and helped me out. So I’ve been called to make sure I turn around and help others along the way.”

Lee was the founding director of the Inner City Games in the 1990s, now the After-School All-Stars, which serves thousands of students with after-school programming.

One of her proudest moments, Lee says, came when she visited Wendell Williams Elementary School in Las Vegas and spotted a young teacher who looked familiar.

“Later on I realized that it was a young girl who had participated in the Inner City Games,” Lee said. “My husband and I were instrumental in helping her when she was a young woman. She came from an impoverished family… and now she’s a teacher here in Clark County.”

Investing in education is the key to Nevada’s success, Lee said. “We have an opportunity to be a world leader in renewable energy, drone technology, cybersecurity — all of those sectors require an education investment,” she said.

Lee met her husband, Dan Lee, CEO of regional casino company Full House Resorts, on a blind date set up by a friend.

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“He asked me if I wanted to go to a fancy French restaurant in Boston,” Lee recalled. “I didn’t want to go to the French restaurant only because I came from Canton, Ohio, and I didn’t know how to pronounce the French names.”

The couple went to a restaurant on the beach instead. They’ve been married 23 years and have two kids.

Lee, who first ran for Congress in 2016 and lost in the Democratic primary, was encouraged to run for office by Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, who tried to talk her into it “every other year,” Lee said. The most difficult part has been dealing with the partisan standoff and attack ads, Lee said.

“My kids watch TV and see the attacks on their mom and my husband, and they don’t like it,” she said. “I just try to brush them off. You can’t let it get under your skin.”

Contact Ramona Giwargis at rgiwargis@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4538. Follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.

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