Sen. Deanna Ballard, R-Watauga, has emerged as a key Senate leader on education issues, chairing two education committees, shepherding bills on topics ranging from school reopenings to literacy standards.
She’ll be departing the Senate at the end of the year after redistricting changes put her in the same district as Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, who won the primary. And while she hasn’t announced her next career move, Ballard still remains something of a rising star in Republican politics.
What are the current and past jobs you’ve held outside politics? While in college, I worked in various jobs and even lived in Los Angeles for six months working for Columbia TriStar/Sony Pictures in television marketing and events. It was incredible to walk through the sound stages every day (i.e. the sets of Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy to name a few) on my way to my “cube” in the office building.
My first job out of college was actually working for a small destination management company called Charlotte Arrangements in Charlotte. I was facilitating various components of convention or corporate meetings for local and national clients – anything from negotiating food and beverage proposals to motor coach/shuttle transportation to designing and producing program content and agendas for large-scale and small-scale meetings.
Essentially, my background is in business management/administration. From there, I went on and served as a commissioned officer in the George W. Bush administration – negotiating with foreign governments, strategizing and creating policy deliverables while managing teams of 100-plus people at one time in multi-faceted domestic and international travel in order to effectively message and communicate the president’s agenda.
When I’ve not been in Senate legislative session, I have worked in a nonprofit management/faith-based work space with Samaritan’s Purse for the last 13 years engaging with international NGOs, developing strategic partnerships and relationships, while ensuring a mission of serving others in meeting their physical and spiritual needs.
What lessons from those roles have you applied to your elected position?
- Value and sharpen interpersonal skills as it helps you navigate various dynamics across teams or in politics, “party lines.” You can get a lot done if you operate with an attitude of listening, collaborating and being open to the notion that the “other guy might have right ideas, too.”
- Be responsive to others.
- The art of follow-through is not a lost art – it can distinguish you from the pack.
- Kindness is not overrated.
- Striving too much can be distracting; focus on delivering excellent work and results and the work will speak for itself…eventually. Hard work does pay off and people do notice – remain diligent.
- Surround yourself with people smarter and bolder than you – fearful and fainthearted mindsets only bring you down and weaken the overall objective in accomplishing real results.
- Respond, don’t react. There is a difference.
- Your integrity, sense of self and faith, and grace are essential – trust, loyalty, and commitment to others, to your work and to your role is priceless.
If you could enact a single piece of legislation into law today, what would it be? One in particular would be to build a physical campus focused on swift and timely data collection and systems across all sectors of state government – less silos and more sharing across education, commerce, economic development, IT, etc. A more comprehensive approach that can deliver accurate and trusted data in a faster turn-around time frame. It’s inconsistent right now and a central system could prove effective – it’s not necessarily sexy, but worthwhile.
Also, another idea is it would be nice to change our legislator mileage reimbursement rate to be equal to the federal mileage rate – we currently get 29 cents a mile while federal mileage rate is 62.5 cents. When you’re traveling weekly to Raleigh from western NC and then have a district with 5-plus counties, the miles on your car add up!
Where do you most enjoy taking an out-of-town visitor in your district? That’s tough – I live in a beautiful district! However, a place that has become sentimental to me in recent years is the little town of Lansing in Ashe County – a small community full of genuine people and a main street appeal with lots of potential. It’s in a rural area of the state, but yet attracting more and more families and folks from across the region and state every day.
I’ve taken visitors to enjoy pizza at Pie on the Mountain or coffee and live music at the Old Orchard Creek General Store while some enjoy sipping on Molly Chomper Cider produced just up the street. It has an entrepreneurial spirit, yet embraces its roots and has support and investments from local, county and state leadership. It’s a tiny, but mighty magical place.
What is your favorite hobby outside of work? I enjoy cooking when I can – just made a meal the other night for a small dinner party and experimented with some new recipes. It was delicious and fun – gathering with small groups, being hospitable, and laughing with friends is an enjoyable change of pace from legislative work. I love to travel though my schedule doesn’t always afford me the chance. I think at this point in my life I have traveled to nearly 70 countries – what a blessing!
Who do you most admire, and why? My parents – one of the best gifts they have ever given me was the freedom to go, to do, to try new things, to take risks, while always providing a safe place to land when needed. They are unconditional in love, sacrificed so much for my brothers and me, and have continually demonstrated hard work and sincerity of heart in so many different settings and circumstances. They continue to teach me how to respond well, finish strong, and move forward no matter the “hits” that might come my way.
What’s the best advice you’ve received about how to get legislation passed? Be nice to the Rules Chairman.