An Interview with Senior Policy Advisor Lauren Agee

It's funny, when I set out to do this series, I didn't realize how many of my "bitches" would be my old college sorority sisters. So heads-up nineteen year olds, when you join a sorority and they tell you that these new "sisters" will be your friends for life - turns out, it's kind of true.

If I was asked the proverbial desert island question, but could list people to bring instead of books, Lauren Agee would be on that list, and not just because I know she would figure out a way to make nachos out of a palm frond and a coconut, but because she's the kind of person you always want around you. Lauren is kind, smart, funny - and if Lauren likes you, people notice.

Lauren and I have been friends since 1996 -- 20 years! We went to college together; when Lauren lived in D.C., she would come to NYC on weekends to see me and our shared friend Tiffany; and then Lauren got me a job and we worked together in the Tennessee State Senate from 2006-2012. It is my pleasure to introduce you to today's bitch, one of my favorite people, Lauren Agee!

What is your job title and where do you work?

I am the Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Minority Leader; Senator Lee Harris (D-Memphis) in the Tennessee General Assembly in Nashville, TN.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

In my sophomore year of college (1997) at Middle Tennessee State University I got a call from my friend and sorority sister, Chastity Hemmer Mitchell, urging me to apply for an open internship she had in the state Senator’s office where she worked. After discussing it with my dad, he urged me to speak to my advisor, Dr. Mark Byrnes (now Dean Byrnes) about getting a waiver to participate in the intern program as a sophomore (because typically these internships were only granted to juniors). I was granted the waiver and I interned that year at the Tennessee General Assembly for Senator Rosalind Kurita. 

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I don’t think there was ever a pivotal moment in my life where I said, “Oh, I want to do this for the rest of my life”, but I remember growing up, we always talked about politics as a family. Whether it was my father and I watching the annual State of the Union together or my mother talking about her love for all things Kennedy, I had an interest in politics. Growing up I thought I would be an attorney, but my path led me in a different direction.

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

I jokingly always say that I started at the top (The White House) and have worked my way down (to state government), but it really is true. After my internship at the Tennessee General Assembly, the summer after my junior year (1998), my father suggested I try to get an internship in Washington, D.C. It just so happened that one of his dearest friends, Jim Free, ran one of the top lobbying firms on Capitol Hill. Jim had agreed to host me as an intern at his office, but after some thought, Jim urged me to apply for an internship at The White House, which I got and reported for duty in the Office of Legislative Affairs. It was truly a dream come true in a political nerd’s life like my own, but I will spare you those details for another time! Long story short -- I did such a good job as an intern (naturally), they asked me to stay on as a full-time staff person and finish out President Clinton’s term in office. I postponed my senior year at MTSU and became a Georgetown living, 20-something working in the West Wing of The White House making a whopping $25,000/year. My mom was so proud!

After the Clinton Administration ended, I came home to finish my degree. I graduated (2001) and pondered grad/law school, but ultimately went back to D.C. to work for Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-California) as her Scheduler/Office Manager.  

Fast-forward three years, I meet my now-husband and am looking to get back to Tennessee. I started putting feelers out to people in the political scene at home and one day former Senator Andy Womack gives me a call to tell me that a former colleague of his, Senator Jim Kyle from Memphis, was just elected as the Democratic Leader of the State Senate and he was looking for a new Policy and Research Analyst.

Senator Kyle hired me (2005) and after two years, promoted me to his Senior Policy Advisor where I worked for him for 10 years. Senator Kyle ran for Chancellor in his home county of Shelby in 2014 and retired from the State Senate after a 30-year tenure.

Today, I still work in the same position, but I have a new boss, Senator Lee Harris, also from the great city of Memphis. Leader Harris is the first minority to be elected to a leadership position in the Tennessee General Assembly and is a true leader for our state. 

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

“If you go slower, you’ll get there faster” from Senator Jim Kyle’s 10 Rules of Politics.  

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

You can only win or lose in politics; every loss teaches you a lesson – the big and small ones.  

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Not drive on I-24. Yoga.  

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

Being named Senate Employee of the Year in 2007 was a huge honor for me. I was truly humbled, as this is an honor that is voted on by your work peers.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Email.  

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

A big hug from my kiddos and a bigger glass of wine.  

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

Logistics. There are many steps to passing a piece of legislation or promoting (or demoting) a cause. It takes a lot of work from a lot of different people and you have to know the process, the staff, the Members, the lawyers, the lobbyist, the strategists and the media.

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

I think some people fail to see the good that government actually can do and the positive impact it can have on people’s daily lives. My best days are those where I help a constituent or we pass a bill on the floor of the Senate that I know will have a positive impact for this state and it’s citizens.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Survivor

! It’s the one show hubby and I have always watched together since we starting dating… it’s been a constant staple in our relationship, 14+ years in the making!

NACHOS.

All photos courtesy of Lauren Agee

P.S. Meet last week's bitch:  

Research Associate, Bernadette Doykos

!

P.P.S. Full list of My Bitches 

here

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