One of my jobs is to go to Capitol Hill and speak to members of Congress. As the Director of the New Mexico Space Grant, I am one of 52 Directors. We are funded by Congress and NASA runs our program. Every year we go to Capitol Hill to report on our progress. My experiences with the Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce helped me prepare. If I knew now what I knew then, would I have done things differently? Nope. I knew I was in over my head then too.
When I had my advertising agency, it was necessary to be outside my comfort zone frequently. I had to get used to it. So I studied. One of my customers was Brice Brisbine, Vice President of Marketing. He hired my agency in 1981. He was a former member of the NMSU faculty, and a kind man. He understood about giving young people a chance. He invited me to join the Citizen’s Bank staff at a leadership retreat. The opening exercise was to give a 2 minute talk to describe what we wanted to accomplish during our life. No preparation, just go for it. I had no idea what to say. After that exercise I knew I’d have to do better planning and learn public speaking. Leaders should know what they want in their lives for starters.
One of my friends was on the Chamber Board of Directors. I asked for her help to grow my public speaking skills. She suggested I go with the Chamber to Las Cruces Day in Santa Fe. The Chamber worked hard to brief us on what our community priorities were and how to talk to legislators. We also had to plan our talks based on the legislators we were going to meet. Some of us went together to offices in the Round House. Learning about community needs helped me develop curiosity about how a city works. I met Dave Steinborn at this time, as he was running for mayor, the first elected mayor of Las Cruces. He asked me if I would volunteer to work on his election committee. I learned so much from him, as he too was generous and willing to teach me.
There is a book I read when I first got this job, The Miracle in Philadelphia. It’s about the Constitutional Convention held over six months in 1787. I felt it was almost a sacred privilege to go to our Capital and talk to our Senators and Congressman. Going to meet people I knew in Santa Fe did not compare with this. When I recalled my performance at the Citizen’s Bank retreat I knew I had to plan and prepare. What did I want out of my life? What makes me think I can do this job? Then I started reading this book.
The First Continental Congress met in 1774, during the War of Independence from England. It was during this Congress that ideas on popular government began to solidify. Political theory was emerging from the Age of Enlightenment and discussions on the rights of man were ongoing in the circles of the well-educated. I am amazed they got anything done, no less decide to wage war, raise an army and fund it. These were people who lived under the rule of King George. He thought he was ruling because God wished it. There’s a tough guy to wage war against. What are the consequences on the immortal soul of participating in the war? Our countrymen and women struggled not only with each other but with their conscience.
Somehow we got a Constitution thirteen years later. The basics of living in a country ruled by law and that we the people have the right to free assembly were ideas were as revolutionary as our form of government. We agreed government must be protected from itself and so there were two houses set up to govern. We also agreed people had the right to be tried by jury, all of these rights we still have to defend to this day. I further began to understand, the people we send to Washington write our laws. These folks are law makers. What is it I want to say to our law makers? I am a woman, what am I doing? The founding fathers had wives. Many of whom were their greatest and truest advisors. I had to accept that I was once again out of my comfort zone and probably would be for the entire trip.
I looked back on other times, like my time with the Chamber, and I started to prepare. I worked with my other colleagues who were new and going to the Hill for the first time. Once we all got to Washington, we agreed to meet in the hotel lobby the morning and walk together. I still get chills. That day was imagined by our founders. I got it. And still do. Start small, think big. Then act.