Carrie Simmons on Strong Female Role Models
one "Rising Star" on what she's learned
in the early years of lobbying the texas capitol
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Being a relatively new lobbyist to the state of Texas myself, I was quick to survey the landscape when I arrived off the truck from Wisconsin in 2015. Yes, Wisconsin. Who else is here, who looks like me and how did they get to where they are? I'll admit I was quick to look for the young women who had made their way in what was an large and pretty overwhelming sea of Texas lobbyists. Carrie Simmons' name has popped up in probably every single circle - with good reason. Then one day Carrie reached out (as many of my interview subjects do...) to suggest that I interview her boss for this blog. Of course I was thrilled for the introduction to Lara Keel and couldn't wait to hear what she had to say - but was equally as thrilled when I convinced Carrie to take a stab at my questions as well. So thanks to both for stopping by and sharing what they've learned both before and since working side by side at the Texas Lobby Group.
Where do you work, what is your title and what does your job actually entail?
I am a lobbyist at Texas Lobby Group. We are a “hired gun” firm that works on a myriad of issues – from taxes to healthcare to booze- we go where we are needed. No day at Texas Lobby Group is ever the same, during session it a brush fire of crisis management. During the interim we work more with agencies and help Legislators as needed in their local elections.
How long have you been performing this work?
I have been with firm since the fall of 2014 so going on three years now. Still seems like just yesterday I jumped into the lions den!
Where are you from?
I say Houston but really I am from Tomball, Texas. Home of the fighting cougars.
What did you study in college and where did you attend school?
I went to the University of Texas, Hook em! I double majored in Government and Public Relations
Political party affiliation?
I am a deep red Republican, no hiding it
How did you get your start in government relations?
I started as an intern in then Rep. Larry Taylor’s office in 2006. His chief of staff Cari Chistman was a family friend and gave me a shot. Every opportunity since then has been because of Cari and Sen. Taylor. Cari was and still is my mentor, she embodies everything that is a “bad a$$” boss lady. She taught me that preparation, determination and guts can get you far in this world but most importantly she taught me that nothing is ever beneath you …. Sometimes even the Chief of Staff has to make copies, pick up coffee or be a driver, we are all part of a team to support the Legislator. The capitol needs more women like Cari, that not only lead by example they mentor the next generation of great women leaders.
When did you know you wanted to work at the capitol and later become a lobbyist?
I honestly never thought I would be a lobbyist (I’m sure that’s what they all say). During my first session with Rep. Taylor we passed a bill for a child with severe peanut allergies. The bill mandated epi pens in ambulances, the joy in his mothers eyes and the lives impacted by something that may seem small, changed my entire life trajectory. I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and this was my channel.
What do you find to be essential skill sets/personality traits for being a good lobbyist?
Being honest is first and foremost the most important skill, without trust you are just a walking one-pager that no one will read. I would also say persistence and the ability to handle reject well… I don’t hear “no” I hear “different pathway.”
I’m a young woman and I want to be a lobbyist. What do I do now? How do I get started in this career?
It is probably best to gain some experience inside the building - intern, be a Legislative aide in the House or the Senate. You can’t learn everything in a textbook you have to live/experience and build relationships with people under the dome before you go outside. This will sound cheesy but I am ok with that, don’t give up. This is a cutthroat industry and that doesn’t mean you have to be mean or put others down, it just means you have to run faster and work harder, every day.
"This is a cutthroat industry and that doesn’t mean you have to be mean or put others down, it just means you have to run faster and work harder, every day."
What is the most rewarding part of your current job? Biggest challenge?
The most rewarding part of the job is when you flip that tough vote, the bill gets signed and the client’s problem gets solved. The biggest challenge for me is being a relatively young woman in an old white man’s world, but like I said before it just means your have to run faster and work harder.
Anything you find to be misunderstood about your profession?
That we get paid to do nothing. We are working every day to build relationships, build understanding, and often trying to make the most boring/mundane subject interesting and relevant.
Describe a time that you knew you were “good” at your job.
Asking a member to file a bill on the last day of filing is a lobbyist’s worst nightmare. I have done it more than once, I am not sure if that makes me good or crazy…
Hardest bill you’ve ever had to lobby? Greatest lobbying success?
My first session lobbying I was working on a Public Improvement District that had assessment authority… it was not popular, we grazed it by the Senate with 1 or 2 votes and the Governor didn’t sign it …. That’s a win.
Do you mind sharing a little bit about your relationship working with Lara, how you learn from one another or share in successes as a team. Any tips on nurturing a relationship with other women in your workplace?
I am truly blessed to have Lara Keel as a mentor and partner of this firm. Lara was one of the first women to break into the lobby profession when it truly was a “boys only” club. She paved the way for women like me and heads up a field of many successful female lobbyists changing the game. I learn something new from her everyday – whether it be healthcare (she is the pro) or origin of legislation or how to approach a problem. We try to have lunch, just us two, at least once a week, we go over client issues, life issues and tips of the trade … and we usually have wine. It’s not working when you love what you do, but also when you love the people you do it with. My best tip for nurturing a relationship with women in the workplace is to listen …really listen, don’t just wait for your turn to talk. Listening and identifying with other women strengthens the entire office and allows each of you to bond over shared experiences.
"Listening and identifying with other women strengthens the entire office and allows each of you to bond over shared experiences."
Generally – without giving away proprietary info – how do lobbyists find clients, and what’s the process like for gaining that contract? Any tips for landing your very first client?
The first one is the hardest. That usually comes from a previous working relationship. The joy of working at a firm with greats like Mike and Lara is their reputation for success helps constantly bring in new clients. Contracts come in all shapes and sizes and all kinds of levels of bureaucracy. There is probably more red tape outside the building then inside.
You could never do your job without __________.
Coffee … and telicon and my phone … its an appendage at this point
Best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t let anyone else define you.
Advice you wish you could give your younger self?
Spend more time with the great women leaders you meet. If I could go back I would have asked for coffee or a meeting to pick the brains of some of the great women I worked with. It was a missed opportunity to not try and soak up more of their wisdom.
Best tip(s) for staying on top of your to-do list/staying organized?
a. I love lists and crossing off lists, it gives me a momentary high to cross off a task. I enjoy organized chaos … Most people who know me know I am not the neatest because I like to see all the pending projects in front of me and sometimes that is a lot of paper and post it notes. I live by calendar reminders, that is my best tip, set a calendar reminder deadline for EVERYTHING it helps keep yourself accountable.
"Spend more time with the great women leaders you meet."
You can have dinner with anyone, living or dead - who and why?
Susan B Anthony. She was an unmarried, relentless warrior for women’s rights. I would love a pep talk from her.
What’s always in your bag during session?
One-pagers, flats, phone charger and 3 legislative handbooks … those offices always move on me just when I start to remember where they are
Favorite place for a business lunch?
Roaring Fork because of location and food but it often feels like Cheers because you know everyone there …. So secret meetings held elsewhere.
Favorite place to get your news?
Twitter – it has the most real time news and often a terribly funny spin on it
Favorite political TV show/movie?
Veep- the comedy hits too close to home
Favorite social media apps?
Instagram – less political rants more cute babies
Favorite book for career advice.
Nerd alert - “Texas House Practice” by Hugh Brady
If you weren’t in your current role you’d definitely be a ____________.
I always wanted to be a sportscaster or a stand up comedian, there is a reason I am not either
Any final thoughts?
Failure isn’t an option …. Oh and be nice to the women you work with, let’s end the girl on girl crime.
Thanks again to Carrie for her candor and kindness in working with Pink Granite this month. Again - you can find her online at the Texas Lobby Group here.