“The FLLA program has changed my life. It has trained me not only in how to run for office, but in how to win. Additionally, FLLA has taught me to not lose sight of my values, and how to run on those values and win. FLLA has given me the tools I need to be a leader in progressive politics for many years.”
Location: Sioux Falls, SD, United States
- Issues Areas:
- Trans* and Queer Liberation
Campus: University of South Dakota - Vermillion, SD
Fellowship Class Year: 2007
- Fellow Groups:
- Leadership Academy
- Front Line Leaders Academy
Featured Fellow Spotlight
YP4: What experiences or opportunities originally led you to FLLA?
Angie Buhl (AB): I was a YP4 Fellow in 2007 and that was largely because of Jon Hoadley, who had been in the YP4 class of 2005, and then was in the FLLA Class in 2006. He recommended it very highly and I knew from working in South Dakota that I wanted to do some professional campaign work going forward and FLLA seemed like a great way to do that.
YP4: What skills do you think you acquired in the FLLA program that you feel you’ve taken with you and have really actively used in your public service?
AB: I think the skill that sticks out for me and wasn’t from one particular weekend or part of the curriculum was really the planning piece. I went through FLLA when I was 23 and there’s no college class you take that teaches you how to strategically plan out anything you’re doing, whether it’s running for office or trying to pass a legislative agenda, or even just doing some personal or career planning. That was something that’s really been valuable for me. Now working with colleagues or other people in my life that haven’t had the benefit of that, to me it seems like something natural that you don’t think about, but I forget that it’s not natural, and I’m very lucky to have been able to have those experiences through programs like FLLA.
YP4: If you could briefly sum up the impact that FLLA had in your life and in your public service career, what would you say that’s been?
AB: Oh, boy [laughs]. That might just be it! FLLA has had just a tremendous impact in helping me to be an effective leader, and to be able to connect with people who share my values.
YP4: What is a piece of advice that you might give to someone who’s going to be an FLLA Fellow?
AB: FLLA is the kind of program where you get out of it what you put into it. I just encourage people to jump in with both feet and learn as much as they can and absorb just everything that they can.
YP4: You mentioned that the skills you gained in FLLA helped you tremendously to get to where you are in public service, but what skills do you think you gained from the program that are continuing to help you now that you’re on the public service path and moving forward within it?
AB: I think so much of it is communication skills and being able to think in my head about where I’m at, where I want to go and how to get there in terms of any kind of goal that I have – whether it’s passing a legislative agenda or trying to stop bad things from happening, which is just as intensive of a planning process. And then also just being able to have conversations and meet people where they’re at and find that common ground. We in South Dakota had a really terrible anti-transgender student bill that happened this year and I was incredibly impressed with some of my allies that I never expected would be able to stand up and talk about why a bill like that impacted their families. I have one colleague that I believe has a transgender grandchild and who would just be the last person you would expect to be able to talk on these issues and have compassion there. It was just a lot of those soft skills that I really have used from FLLA that I still use even now.
YP4: What issues specifically did you have in mind to work on going forward in public service?
AB: I had always been really passionate about LGBT issues and women’s reproductive health and rights, but for me it was just a little bit of everything.
YP4: Now that you are involved in public service, what would you say are your main goals you’d like accomplish within those issue areas?
AB: [chuckles] You know, South Dakota is a tricky state to work in. To be honest, some days it’s just trying to keep things from getting worse. This year we had some terrible, ridiculous bills introduced, but I was really proud of the fact that after the legislative session this year in South Dakota, for the first time in at least ten years it is not harder now for a woman to get an abortion than it was six months ago.
YP4: Which is an accomplishment in itself!
AB: [laughs] Yeah, it is! I mean, in a state where we’ve seen bills that would require women to go get permission from a crisis pregnancy center in order to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy or not, and wait for, what was at the time, the longest waiting period in the country [to get an abortion], we’re just trying very hard to not make things worse.
YP4: You originally graduated with degrees in psychology and music. How did you get from those fields of study to wanting to be involved in public service?
AB: [laughs] To me, it’s sort of all wrapped up in wanting to help people. I had psychology professors in my first undergraduate experience, I’m actually doing undergrad 2.0 right now, but I met some people who were really great at talking about mental health as a component of quality of life. I think sometimes especially with mental illness and the cases that people see as “crazy,” whether it’s schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, especially in rural areas where there’s not as much access to care and people still have these antiquated ideas about what mental healthcare really looks like, these professors really talked about it as just another component of health and wellness and that really made a lot of sense to me and so I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted to do with my degree when I was getting it, but I knew that it really spoke to me and I loved the classes and I’m actually now working in a behavioral health facility with children and adolescents. So seven years after college, I’m finally using my degree [laughs]. In another two years I’ll be a nurse and have my Bachelors in nursing, as well, and I really just want to help people and that’s really just what it boils down to for me.
YP4: You mentioned that you ran for the first time when you were 25. What is the biggest piece of advice or one thing you wish you knew running that young that you could give to someone else who’s hoping to run at a very young age?
AB: Two different things [laughs]. And part of it is I actually almost chose not to run and having gone through FLLA I got to see all the different pieces that are involved in a campaign that I already knew a little bit about, but that I became more familiar with, and I sort of sold myself on the idea for a short while that I could just be a background person. I’m really good at campaigns, I love campaigns, I love having that kind of impact and the work that goes into it on a day to day basis, and so I told myself I know campaigns, but I don’t really know policy. I don’t know how to introduce a bill! I mean I’m in a state where agriculture industry is important and in such a large state we have issues with roads and the education funding formula, I didn’t know how that worked, and I told myself that all of these policy pieces were reasons I shouldn’t run. I almost held myself back because I just didn’t think I was competent enough to do it. What I wish I had thought about more at the time, and I’m glad I talked myself out of it [not running] eventually, was that even people who runf or elected office after their career is over and when they’re in retirement might have worked in one field for thirty years. They might know law enforcement really well. They might know education or healthcare really well, but that doesn’t mean they know anything more about farming than I do [laughs]. I sometimes run into people who are active and involved and considering running, and women especially, who want to hold themselves back from that role. If you’re elected body, whatever you’re looking at, whether it’s a state or local office or federal office, if that body doesn’t look like you think it should, if it doesn’t have enough people like you, then it’s time to jump in.
YP4: Do you think that you faced different challenges in running so young and also being a woman than your male counterparts who were also running?
AB: Sort of– in the campaign I think I benefitted from people thinking I was just like their granddaughter. There were lots of seniors who were like, “Oh, you remind me of my granddaughter!” [laughs] We had great conversations about that and it seemed to be a connection point, but I had a different sort of dynamic because I was running in a two-way race against an incumbent female. It became this whole sensational thing like, “Oh my goodness! Two women are running for office against each other!” And that shouldn’t have been – okay, it’s interesting- but that’s not the most interesting piece of the campaign. I mean, nobody makes a big deal when two men run against each other.
YP4: And you found that you two were pitted against each other in a kind of “catty” frame?
AB: Yeah, they kind of made some things I took on in the campaign more simplistic than they were so yeah, kind of.
YP4: I think that’s the case with most female politicians, but I guess those are some of the issues you’re trying to work towards fixing.
AB: Yeah, I mean when I got in, like any freshman, I asked lots of questions and I tried to make them smart questions. About halfway through my first session I had lobbyists come to me and say, “You’re asking really good questions in committee!” Which they say with surprise, implying that, you know, you’re a 25 year old woman, why do you know enough to ask these things? I can’t tell if the lowered expectations were a benefit or a detriment, or a little bit of both.
YP4: Do you find that you still face a little bit of that subtle misogyny or sexism even after you’ve been in public service now for all these years?
AB: Sometimes. There’s a little bit of “mansplaining” sometimes [laughs] and most of the time it’s well intentioned. I think most of the time people are just surprised to meet someone who is just so intellectually curious. I read Wikipedia for fun [laughs]. So that’s a benefit in my case where we have 4-500 bills introduced every year and you just have to know a little bit about a whole lot of stuff in order to be able to make good decision and ask the right questions on all of those different pieces at once.
YP4: Looking towards the future what do you see your legacy looking like, and what would you like to be remembered for?
AB: I sort of broke the mold of what a legislator looks like in South Dakota. When I came in I don’t think they really knew what to expect from a 25-year old who had never run for elected office before. It’s hard to point to specific bills or things like that that get passed, but if nothing else happens other than people recognizing the importance of having a legislative body that looks like them, like the people they [elected officials] represent, and changing the idea of who can speak confidently about issues that affect all of us, I think that’ll be a tremendous legacy.