Christy Agner works for the state of North Carolina in the office of the Secretary as the Liaison for Productivity and Legislative Affairs. I met Christy about two decades ago when we were working at a summer camp. Christy is several years younger than me, but she impressed me then with her eloquence. After that summer, those who knew Christy would occasionally get an email urging us to vote, and later we received Facebook messages with the same content. Yet Christy never told anyone which way to vote. She never pushed a particular agenda on her friends. She just feels passionately, that our voices should be heard. Because women lawmakers are still in the minority, she has a special interest in getting women to the polls. Given some of the things being said about women and women’s issues by politicians today, I am thrilled to welcome Christy to Nerdy Chick Rules. I think you will find her answers heartfelt and timely.
Hi Christy! I’m going to start with what I think is the most important question in this interview. While you’re not a politician, you work in politics. Why do you think it is important that more women become active in politics? Government is by the people, for the people. Yet if only men step up to be involved in public office, then its men’s perspectives, men’s experiences, men’s issues which are prioritized in public discourse and decisions. Issues such as contraception, child care, medical research, and aging are very different from the ‘lens’ of a woman. If women sit out or are kept out, then our voices are silent and public policy overlooks those aspects of our lives and the lives of our families.
I have witnessed legislative debate for many years and no matter the Party in charge of the proceedings, the few women legislators have had to carry the voices of 54% of this State (women) onto the floor of the House and Senate. The House of Representatives now has over 20 women (of 170 members) but the Senate has less than 5 (out of 50). Ladies, we have work to do! I can tell you the women legislators of all political persuasions work hard, study the issues, listen to their constituents and don’t get into the ‘ethics’ controversies that have marred government in recent years.
I love the way you said that! You told me most of what you do involves facilitating information requests to and from the legislature branch, to your department in the executive branch. It seems like your role as Liaison for Productivity and Legislative Affairs requires excellent communication skills. What is one of the most important things you’ve learned about helping groups of people communicate? The most important thing you can do to assist citizens in understanding their government is to ‘demystify the process.’ As a public servant, I can offer transparency about the process to seek a permit, bid for a contract, obtain public information, or learn about a grant application. You shouldn’t have to pay a lobbyist or law firm to help you understand how to access a public service. A Legislator needs information to help them make decisions quickly. If I can provide accurate, contextual and timely information then the legislator is poised to make a more informed decision. If folks know that you are willing to answer any question that you can (and some you won’t know), it helps to foster trust and understanding versus frustration.
With any type of group communication, that element of ‘demystifying’ the process is critical. If everyone knows the rules, knows each other, knows the goal, etc then trust and openness emerges and some real accomplishments can emerge.
For you, what is the most rewarding aspect of your career? Watching young women come behind me and not having the same barriers I did. Watching working women balance kids and public service and knowing that is possible because of supportive spouses and workplaces. Seeing older women retire from rewarding careers and finding it possible to continue serving their community through elected office. Seeing better public policy emerge because women stepped up to serve their communities.
Can you share a career success where you helped a group achieve their goals by effectively communicating with the NC Legislature? In my private life, I am a founding Board member of a group called Lillian’s List. A group of community women came together in 1997, concerned about the lack of women’s voices in our State Legislature. After several discussions, it became clear to us that we wanted to increase the number of pro-choice, progressive women in the Legislature and to do that we needed an organization that could help erase the main deterrent to women running for office – access to early money to fund successful campaigns. Fast forward 13 years and the group is still going strong and focused not only on raising ‘seed’ money for women’s campaigns but also recruiting, training and supporting women as they run for the State Legislature. Lillian’s List has effectively added women’s voices to the public process and because of their shear presence of more women in the Legislature, there has been enhanced communication on environmental, reproductive choice, aging and health care issues in North Carolina.
That is awesome that you all took action in such a rational way, and that it has been so productive. What a great model for a way to make sure our voices are heard.
Now I’m going to ask you some of my standard Nerdy Chick questions. I usually start with this one: If you could give your middle school or high school self one piece of advice, what would it be? Don’t be afraid to be passionate about the things you are good at and for the groups you want to serve. That passion will help you open doors and create credibility to make change. Life does not end at graduation from the microcosm of high school; it begins.
Great advice! What’s something you like to do that might be considered a little bit nerdy, but is actually really fun? I love to register voters. I have family in the military so the right to vote is precious to me. As someone who originally went to school to be a high school civics teacher, I celebrate democracy and want everyone to participate in it.
And I love to promote voting to women. Did you know that more older (65 and over) women vote than younger (35 and younger) women? Did you know that more married women vote than unmarried (widowed, divorced or never married) women? As a single woman, I make a point to know when I can cast an ‘early’ vote in case I’m busy on election day. Since I’m on my own financially as a single woman, I want the financial and government systems to work for me and others like me and not just women who have a spouse. Recent statistics show that nearly ½ of all women are single head of household, but we don’t vote at the same rate as married women.
In North Carolina it is super easy to check your registration, register for the first time, or quickly re-register in case you have moved since the last election (THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT SO YOU ARE NOT TURNED AWAY AT THE POLL). This site has all the details: http://www.ncsbe.gov/content.aspx?id=1&s=1
Thanks for sharing those stats, Christy. Are there any social norms that you’re fond of flouting? Being a decent person. I believe in karma and that God gives you no situation you cannot handle without his strength. I wish more people would be proud to be – or at least strive to be – decent people who treat others kindly and ethically in business as well as family. I am also genuinely excited and motivated by my job and never hesitate to tell folks about that. I’ve had people roll their eyes at me when I communicate that, which I find sad. I’ve felt a calling to public service my entire life and I’m excited to have had opportunities to work in public and private roles that promote civic activity in our country.
Can you tell us about a well-known nerdy chick you admire and why you admire her? I really admire State Treasurer Janet Cowell. She is just a few years older than I am but has accomplished so much and been very devoted to public service throughout her career. Treasurer Cowell invested in her education, in her community and now oversees one of the largest public pension funds in the country as NC State Treasurer, as well as manages the issuance of several billion dollars of public debt each year. I have really liked her focus of offering financial education to students across the state. Janet studies her issues and works really hard in an industry that hasn’t traditionally been led by women.
It’s great to hear about women like Janet Cowell! Do you have a favorite song that speaks to your inner nerdiness? I’m sure this is so cheesy, but there is a favorite camp and spiritual song ‘This little light of mine.’ It’s like a theme song when you are down, when you doubt, when you wonder about a certain decision or pathway. I just think about the simplicity of having a ‘light’ that can inspire you to step forward and say ‘Hey, Here I am.’
Oh yeah, that’s plenty nerdy! J Do you have a favorite hobby? Details please! Yes, I volunteer at the local animal shelter. I match available animals with families looking to adopt. I love when I see a cat or dog going home with a new family, especially the older animals who are going to be great pets. It’s a blast, it’s rewarding and you meet some really great folks from your community. http://www.spcawake.org/
Awww. now I am wondering how many pets you have! Thanks so much for your answers. I can tell you thought about each one!
To find out more about Christy, visit this link to The North Carolina Department of Administration.
You can find out more about Lillian’s List at www.lillianslist.org.
Christy also shared this link for state by state voter registration. If you haven’t registered yet, now is the time! http://www.voterparticipation.org/