Lisa Song Sutton has tried it all. The 34-year-old, who moved to Nevada after graduating law school at the University of Miami, started a few businesses in her new home, including a shipping store called Ship Las Vegas, real estate and swimwear companies, and a specialty bakery called Sin City Cupcakes. She’s also a regular contributor to Forbes. And, beginning in 2014, she spent 18 months ruling the pageant circuit, first as Miss Las Vegas and then Miss Nevada United States. Her next venture? Running for office.
But as Sutton, a Republican, tells MTV News, running to represent Nevada’s 4th Congressional District wasn’t initially in her plans. Rather, she was galvanized after customers of Ship Las Vegas — which she operated in a northeast Las Vegas neighborhood she describes as “challenging,” where a vacant Walmart is the next building over — told her they felt let down by a congressman Sutton says “had gone D.C. on them" because he seemingly moved to the capital. (The district is currently represented by Representative Steven Horsford, a Democrat. His campaign told MTV News that he “is a native Nevadan, with deep roots in the community. Steven's home is in Las Vegas, Nevada, and he maintains housing in the Washington, D.C., area where he works on legislation important to his constituents.”) Sutton also opposes gun reform legislation put forth by Horsford, who introduced the Break the Cycle of Violence Act that provides federal grants to communities for gun violence intervention, and what she describes as “centralized, big-government control over our lives.”
Sutton’s campaign platform prioritizes business and Second Amendment rights, as well as supporting the armed forces and providing even more funding to the government’s immigration agencies. While the Trump administration has already requested billions of dollars for the president’s long-threatened “border wall,” Sutton advocates for what she calls “a pragmatic, realistic approach” to immigration reform.
Sutton, a first-generation immigrant beauty queen turned entrepreneur turned politician, believes that anyone who cares about their communities can and should make their voices heard in the political process. She speaks to MTV News about running as a young Republican woman and how winning a beauty pageant has helped her campaign.
MTV News: When did you decide to run for Miss Nevada?
Lisa Song Sutton: It was the fall of 2013, and I competed for my local title which was Miss Las Vegas. I won, which allowed me to represent Las Vegas at the state level for Miss Nevada. That pageant was in May of 2014, and I won that title.
MTV News: Did you think that pageant work transfers to politics at all?
Sutton: It definitely does in the sense that if you're very focused on the community side of [pageantry] work, you work with a ton of nonprofits. So that's exactly what I did. I did nearly 500 community appearances. I was volunteering in schools, reading in hospitals, working with countless nonprofits… It was very similar to the work that I did when I interned for Arizona Senator John McCain [in 2005]. It was sitting down, talking to people, hearing their problems, and then when I was Miss Nevada, I was figuring out which nonprofit to route them to. Which nonprofit partners did we have that can maybe help them with their situation, or what they were encountering?
MTV News: At what point did you decide to run for Congress?
Sutton: It definitely was not in the plan. It came about because I opened the second location of my shipping store, Ship Las Vegas... An abandoned Walmart is our next-door neighbor up there. It's unfortunate — it's an area of town that's a bit overlooked. We took a chance on the neighborhood and apprehensively opened up. I'm an entrepreneur, I'm eternally optimistic.
[The] very first customers we had the day we opened were these two little old ladies who lived in these apartments across the street, and they were so happy they could at least buy stamps. Without us they had to take a bus to the closest post office, which is a 45-minute journey one-way on a bus. They needed two things: A place to buy stamps and a secure place to post their mail because that's how they pay their utility bills. That set the tone for our store’s presence in that neighborhood. We were there to help, we're there to provide a much-needed resource.
I was so surprised to see that in this city of so much abundance, that we had this pocket of society that was just kind of trying to get by on their own. I was like, “What more can be done here?” I started to hear from our customers that they were upset with the current congressman, [and] I realized that someone should just run against this guy… It just really sparked something in me and I just felt a calling to be able to stand up and do more for this community and for my community.
MTV News: What does campaigning look like for you?
Sutton: My district is the largest in land mass in the state. It encompasses a total of seven counties, so I'm averaging approximately 2,000 miles a month driving around. I was just in a copper mine two weeks ago. Outside of the hospitality industry, our [primary] economic drivers are mining and agriculture. Once you get out of Clark County, the rest of the district is all rural areas.
MTV News: What measures, if any, would you support to combat the climate crisis?
Sutton: Of course the environment is very important because this is what is going to be left for us. For you and me, for when we start families, our kids, our grandkids… Why don't we reward the companies that actually are being stewards to the environment? Instead of having this punishment, where everyone is worried about getting a big, giant fine? Why aren't we rewarding these companies for setting trends, being good stewards of the environment and really setting great examples that these other companies can follow, and then who ends up benefiting? All of us, and the environment.
MTV News: What laws and legislation do you support to make sure that kids are safe from shootings in their schools?
Sutton: I'm a very strong Second Amendment supporter, having grown up with firearms and firearm safety. I do know how important it is for law-abiding citizens to be able to exercise that right and have that right protected. Coming from a military family, my dad taught me how to shoot when I was nine. I grew up with firearm safety, firearm responsibility, and I know especially as a woman, that firearms are the most efficient way to equalize a dangerous situation.*
All of that said, keeping kids safe in school is an absolute number one priority. There's no reason that any child should feel unsafe when they're at school, when they're there to learn. I think there's a lot of work that can be done around exploring how we can efficiently do that. I've read stuff where they're trying to figure out: Is it better for us to have armed personnel on sight at these schools? What's the best course of action? Unfortunately, there's no clean answer. It's one that has to be actively worked through.
Editor’s note: According to a 2017 Pew survey, 71 percent of gun owners who are women listed protection as a top reason for owning a firearm. However, research shows that having a gun in your household makes you more likely to be a victim of gun violence, not less.
MTV News: What is the government's obligation, if there is any, to lessen the student loan burden?
Sutton: I think we have to kind of go to the root of the problem, and it's looking at not only the very high cost of what a college education is now, but also getting away from that culture where we've really pushed young people into thinking that college is the only way that they can build a successful life for themselves. We have to get away from that culture of constantly pushing college upon everybody, because sometimes college isn't for everyone, and grad school isn't for everyone.
MTV News: So what governmental response would you support?
Sutton: Like I said, not only do we have the high cost of student education, but there's also this culture that's been perpetuated for a very long time. I think we're starting to see a little bit of a shift, but it takes more voices. For a long time it was, “You must go to college, that's the only way you're going to be successful. It doesn't matter what your degree is and it doesn't matter if you're undecided, just go to college.” For those who aren't fiscally prepared to go, all that does is that they end up with an accumulating debt and they come out and maybe they have a degree, maybe they don't, and maybe they end up using it or not, and it's detrimental.
MTV News: You're a daughter of an immigrant. What kind of immigration legislation do you support?
Sutton: Representative Chip Roy has introduced legislation that would designate the cartels as foreign terrorists organizations. I think that was a long time coming… What we're fighting down there is the cartel. We're not fighting poor migrant families that want to build a better life for them and their kids. I think we really have to focus on who the enemy is.
Editor’s note: Experts have cautioned against classifying cartels as terrorist organizations, noting that doing so also misunderstands the U.S.’s role in exacerbating the situation. Additionally, at least 5,400 children have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, and hundreds more families have taken up residence in the Matamoros refugee camps.
MTV News: Does that mean you want to focus deportation efforts on certain groups, whether that's recent border crossers, convicted criminals, or national security threats? Or do you want to completely halt deportations altogether? Are there certain levels to your approach here?
Sutton: I think we have to be realistic, right? If someone says we're going to deport everybody who is here illegally, tell me how that's implemented? I think we have to take a pragmatic, realistic approach to this stuff. There has to be some sort of expedited pathway in relation to obtaining that legal immigration. I think we have to be mindful of that and we really have to explore a pragmatic, realistic approach that provides legal citizenship for those who want to be here, who want to build a better life, that's work related, and without providing harm to our society.
MTV News: What is your approach for deportations, then?
Sutton: It has to be common sense. It's literally not feasible to be extreme one way or the other. If we're serious about committing to solutions and committing to actually resolving this in a reasonable way.
MTV News: Young people tend to be more liberal than older generations. Why do you think it’s important to be a young Republican candidate in today's political environment?
Sutton: I think it's important for young people to have a voice. I think it's important for conservative women to have a voice. I think it's important for young business owners to have a voice. We care about our businesses and we care about our communities. It's time for us to make that known.
MTV News: It’s Women's History Month. Who are some of the women who have inspired you?
Lisa Song Sutton: Certainly Sandra Day O'Connor. I'm sure you hear this one often, but my mom is just — I'm so blessed to have a really strong, supportive family and my mom is my rock. And some of my business partners, Danielle from Sin City Cupcakes, Cathy Kuo with Christy’s International Real Estate, [and] Sarah Nehf with the Shipping Stores. I'm blessed to be partnered with these incredibly strong, independent, capable young women. They keep me grounded, they keep me motivated, and so I'm really blessed.