November/December 2015 Issue
Political strategist Laurie Lee mostly focuses
on conservative and educational causes,
but some of her pet projects cross party lines.
Photography by Janet Warlick
In the U.S. Navy, Little Rock political consultant Laurie Lee was among the first women to complete explosive ordnance disposal training. She laughed when asked if that experience prepared her for the professional world she now inhabits.
“There are a lot of things out there [in politics],” she said, “landmines, if you will. And once you hit one it’s kind of hard to take that back.”
There is something about her personality, too, that may have helped her in both roles — aggression that is tempered by a degree of caution (“metered,” she calls it).
Lee’s ascendancy in the Arkansas political world has been rapid and left a tremendous impact on the state at a time when political control has shifted from Democrats to Republicans. Raised in both Fort Smith and Little Rock, the Little Rock Central High School graduate and mother of two daughters became interested in educational issues back in 2003.
She felt moved to find a way to make a difference. A few years later, when the tea party movement began, she joined an organization called American Majority, which describes itself as an “organizing arm for conservatives.”
“And with that job, I just went around and literally taught people how to engage in politics … I did some [work] in Arkansas, some in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri,” she said. “Traveling around and saying, ‘You should be a part of the process. You should vote. You should use social media to get your opinions out. You should start a blog. You should build relational equity with your legislators, and your city council, and your school board.’ That’s really where I felt a passion for politics [begin].
“I saw things happening in the world around me,” she added, “that affected me and my family, and just thought, you know what, these people are elected by me, and I want to make a difference. I’m gonna go up and start talking to people who are elected. I made a pledge in 2009 that I would never again vote for another person outside of president of the United States that I didn’t personally meet.”
She kept the pledge, and her work with American Majority eventually led to positions with political consulting firms Southern Meridian and Impact Management Group, both in Little Rock. But she felt the tug to go out on her own.
Now, as founder and managing partner of Trace Strategies LLC, Lee helps both business and political clients with public relations, and political advocacy and strategy. Along with partner Mark Biviano, a former state legislator and vice president with technology firms Oracle and SAP, she works at local, state and national levels, with clients such as the Walton Family Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation and the Association of American Educators.
As to what sets her firm apart from the competition, Lee points to the foundation for a grassroots “infrastructure,” which she began laying in her door-to-door work with American Majority.
“That’s something that we can offer our clients that no other firm can offer, a knowledge of the state, on the ground,” she said.
“For instance, last election cycle we hit 144,000 unique doors in three months that helped sway the [Arkansas] Senate election. We knew the ground; we knew what doors to hit. There’s identifiable information between the doors that we knocked and the phone calls we made and the people who went to the polls…. We identified low propensity voters who were self-identified pro-life. And we just encouraged them to go to the polls and vote.”
Lee only puts her services, and Trace Strategies’ in-house database, to work for causes she believes in. That gives Trace Strategies a conservative, education-heavy focus. But her passion for a more educated electorate crosses political party lines.
“One of the very first things I did, and I tried to teach people with American Majority, was to make sure you understand what the legislation says,” she explained. “Don’t just be spoon-fed. That’s one of my biggest pet peeves — people that go off on information they’re just spoon-fed by the news organizations they choose to listen to. Whether it’s left or right, it doesn’t matter. [People] don’t go to source documents. They don’t do their due diligence, checking out what’s real and separating fact from fiction.”
Is there a specific issue she wishes voters were more educated about?
“I don’t know that it’s a specific issue as much as it is how everything is interrelated,” she said. “For instance, business and education. Anything that affects education policy affects business policy.”
She added that she also wishes politics were less about the blame game and more about how to move forward to solve problems. Moving forward and changing things is something Lee has proven herself adept at doing, and she credits her faith in God as a primary driver.
“I personally believe that every person created was created for a specific purpose — and that is something that was God-given,“ she said. In practical terms, it boils down to leaving things better than you found them, something that takes hard work.
“My dad always said, every time you have a job, you better make sure they have to hire two people to replace you when you leave.”