Once A Spectator, She Found Purpose In Running For Office
For many women the path to elected office wasn’t one they ever considered. Councilwoman Christine Houk was once a regular spectator at Grove City Council meetings, but she never saw herself getting in the game. She never thought she would run for office but it was her love for her community that led her to find a purpose within leading it.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your professional experience, and your background.
For over twenty years, I have managed an accounting firm in Grove City, Ohio. Our niche is tax, accounting, and consulting services for small businesses. Though I spend a lot of my time with numbers, it has always been the people who make my job worthwhile. I am driven to find ways to give back to the community where my husband Allen and I chose to raise our family and start our business. Accordingly, I have served on countless boards and committees over the years. I am the proud mom of Cameron, who is a third-year veterinary medicine student, Alyson, who is an attorney, and a very lovable golden retriever named Lilly.
When was the first time you thought about serving in public office? What made you think about it?
By virtue of operating a local business that supports other local businesses, I found myself paying attention to what was going on at a local level. For several years, I attended city council meetings, sat in the back row, and only spoke up when I felt I had something to contribute.
People would ask when I was running for a council seat. “Ha! Never.” In 2016, when the only woman on our city council decided to run for State Representative, I began to feel that I could no longer sit on the sidelines.
What made you decide to take the plunge and commit to running for elected office? After you committed, what was the first step you took?
On the day after the 2016 election, I met my newly-elected State Representative Laura Lanese for lunch and told her that I was running. In 2017, she would assume her new responsibilities, and I was on the ballot that November. My first step was to have key conversations with people of influence in the community. It was helpful that I had strong relationships with these community leaders, rooted in many years of active involvement.
Once a woman has started to consider running for office, what are some first steps she can take to turn that consideration into action?
I believe women have the tendency to feel that they are not ready or not prepared. (Crazily enough, not an issue for most men!) Perhaps a run for office is something they will aspire to in the future? Spend some time at the meetings or watching the meetings online. When you develop a more “first-person” view of how the body of decision-makers operates, it is easier to have a clear vision of where you would fit in.
If someone is brand new to politics, what advice would you give to them for learning the ins and outs?
Volunteer for a campaign. It is most helpful to be working on a campaign for the same role you are considering. I was asked to serve as the treasurer of a city council campaign in 2011. This gave me the opportunity to develop my knowledge of campaign finance laws. I worked on two more city council campaigns before I ran for office. The front-row seat to local campaigns was invaluable.
You’ve been serving in office for three years now. What have been some of the best moments you’ve had over the last three years?
To be honest, it has been a bit of an adjustment versus my career in the private sector. The pace of government can be frustrating. I feel that I am regularly honing my communication skills and my ability to build consensus. As of today, I would say that the three things I am most proud of are driving the formation of a Citizen Financial Review Task Force, a Community Substance Addiction and Mental Health Action Plan Committee (still in the works), and my work daily to build connections between City Hall and the community.
What are the three skills that you think women who are considering running for local elected office should have before they run for office?
Run as you are.
The most important thing that you can bring to your elected office is a willingness to learn. I am an accountant by profession. I am learning every day about zoning, stormwater management, information systems, public safety, engineering, etc. I have the great honor of being surrounded by experts in these fields, and the only thing I have to bring to the table is the heart of a student.
If someone isn’t ready to run for office, but they’re passionate about changing their community, what are some other ways they can take action?
Raise your hand. Look for boards, commissions, and committees that need your assistance. I have served at my children’s schools, our church, business organizations, and charitable foundations. This work not only helped craft my leadership style, but it also helped me build relationships in the community I now serve in my elected position.
Why do you think it’s important for women to step up and get involved in politics?
Women belong at every table, from the boardroom to the council dais to Congress. It has been exciting to see more women step up to run for elected office in recent years, but our work is not done. Women work harder, are more prepared, and are often a stabilizing influence to conversation. Women are natural leaders.
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