Legislative Leader: Sen. Erica Smith

April 25, 2019

Senator Erica Smith is a former School Board member and has served in the NCGA since 2014. She earned her B.S. Mechanical Engineering from North Carolina A&T State University and also has a M.A. in Religious Studies from Howard University School of Divinity. Erica is a former engineer and has also worked as a high school math and Chemistry teacher. Earlier in 2019 Sen. Smith announced she is seeking the Democratic nomination for the US Senate.

Devon Roberts: Why did you decide to run for office?

Sen. Erica Smith: I knew as early as 9 years old when I was on the military base in Lubbock, TX that I wanted to serve my community. My dad was in the United States Air Force and I was always so excited about service and about the military. As I grew up, I had the opportunity to observe local, state and national leadership through activities and experiences on the military installations where we lived. I was inspired by President Jimmy Carter’s humble roots – that he had the ability to draw on his modest background to rise in politics. In middle school I was on student council, and that leadership continued in high school where I served as class officer, and Student Government Association president in College. I worked from the grassroots level to state elected office. As an adult, I started as a community grassroots and religious leader, Chair and Vice-Chair for my County Democratic Party Chair, and as a member of the Board of Education for Northampton prior to serving in the NCGA.

Roberts: What are the benefits of being a women while campaigning and serving?

Smith: Women already know how to multitask. We are used to juggling family, work responsibilities, and our community service. We wear so many hats and there are so many demands on us. Serving in elected office has taught me to keep a schedule and when to stop and rest. As women we want to know, hear, and understand how to make people more comfortable; How to be more accepted and how to listen to those who don’t have a voice. I learned active listening so that I can hear what those who don’t often have a voice are saying and I give them a voice. These attributes are well serving when it comes to campaigning and serving in elected office. Sometimes there are drawbacks – many times the voice and role of women are discounted. I have shared ideas, only for other people, usually a man, to get the credit.

Roberts: Why are you pro-choice?

I had the opportunity to grow up in a family where my father treated me and my four sisters the same as our brother. My dad made no distinction between gender. He and my mother informed us at a young age to not allow society to define, confine or design you or what you do – that we could be and do anything we set our minds to do. I am pro-choice because I strongly believe a pregnancy is between a mother and her maker and that is a decision no one else can make. I grew up in a religious community and I’ve always been active in the church. When I started exploring my passion for preaching, I read the bible through several times. In its teachings there are many examples of how women didn’t have control over their own bodies and were treated as second class citizens. For me, when I was studying theology, equality, civil rights and aligning it to my spiritual formation – I became even more committed to the pro-choice movement. After exploring my religious formation and learning more about theological liberation movements, I better understood who I am and Whose I am. I earned my master’s in religious studies with a concentration in Christian Ethics. I began to understand the difference between pro-life, pro-choice, and pro-birth. Many people are pro-birth BUT NOT not pro-life and there is a difference. They only care that the baby is born, and don’t care how that baby is raised, or the social injustices, poverty, challenges the baby encounters, many times because of the color of their skin, or socio-economic status. We as women have a right to make a choice and I am firmly committed that a woman has a right to choose what happens to her body and when.

Roberts: What do you hope to accomplish for women while in office?

Smith: I hope to be the voice of unheard and underserved women and communities. We bring issues to the table that have never been a fleeting thought to men because they cannot empathize with the situation or understand. It’s not malice, it’s just foreign to them. Concepts like equal pay, for equal work or workplace policies conducive for women who are new mothers or pregnant are initiatives that are not readily on the radar of male policymakers. When I was working in engineering and education, the former in a male-dominated workplace, I had a high-risk pregnancy and had preeclampsia. It was important to me that my employer understood that I needed certain accommodations, during pregnancy, like regular breaks. Accommodations after pregnancy, like opportunities for lactation breaks for women who are breastfeeding, would make the transition back to work after maternity leave easier for women. These are issues that are just finding their way in the policy making process as more women have been elected in public office. I had the same skill set, experience and performance as male coworkers – yet they earned more money for the same job. I am bringing a voice to equal pay for equal work. Women have the primary responsibility for taking care of family. We should not lose ground for entering and exiting the workplace due to family care responsibilities. Being the representation for equality for women, having an authentic voice and passion for passing policy to change and bring parity for all people are the benefits of being a woman serving in elected office.

Roberts: Who is your favorite fictional politician?

Smith: Olivia Pope from Scandal, she’s an advocate and understands protecting people. She gets that the DC establishment has dark ops that need to be exposed, cleansed and HANDLED, and some barriers and structures that need to be torn down. Most of all, she doesn’t shy away from the challenge of putting the people ahead of special interests.