Twitter Personality of the Week #26: 10 Questions for Teri Christoph (@TeriChristoph)

                I’m not sure why anyone would be offended by an appellation like “Smart Girl”, but apparently some liberals are. (Perhaps there’s a hidden lesson there?) Meanwhile I’m trying to raise three of them, with the steadfast assistance of a fourth! Aspiring to such an aspiration is a laudable goal and I’m grateful to Teri Christoph for bringing such a designation into vogue with the launching of Smart Girl Politics (SGP).

                The name “Teri Christoph” was one of the first I began to see pop up consistently when the world of social media began to come alive for me. I finally met Teri at Right Online in Las Vegas last summer and heard her relate in one of the panel sessions the inspirational story of how SGP was launched, which she also shares here.

               Teri is a devoted stay-at-home wife and mother of four who has found a path to making a profound difference. She is a stirring example of how one person’s determination can have a ripple effect far beyond her own life. I have profiled Jenny Erikson and Molly Teichman in this series: talented contributors to the conservative movement in their own right, to be sure. Yet I’m certain that they (and many others you’ll see featured in this series in coming weeks) wouldn’t hesitate for a second to credit SGP with the provision of a forum to amplify their voices. 

Teri and I are both admirers of Indiana's own Congressman Mike Pence. I enjoyed talking with her and co-host Kat McKinley on a recent podcast about Pence's future plans.

              It has been a privilege to become better acquainted with Teri Christoph over the last year. I have seen her at various activist events, been invited on her podcast for “Mike Pence talk” and engaged in late-night Twitter conversations about Red Hot & Blue’s potato salad! Regardless of the occasion, I have found Teri to be perennially pleasant, consistently kind and an unfailingly supportive friend. In spite of her accomplishments, she remains notably humble and gracious. We need more of her kind.

              I’m a fan of both Teri and Smart Girl Politics! You can follow Teri on Twitter at @TeriChristoph and her organization, Smart Girl Politics at @OfficialSGP. I strongly encourage you to do both now if you aren’t already.

10 Questions for Teri Christoph

1.      Teri, I knew I’d want to interview you for a 10 Questions profile as soon as I began doing this series, so I welcome the chance to learn more about the story behind the lady at the helm of Smart Girl Politics! Tell us where you grew up and what the formative experiences were that shaped your worldview today.  

I was born in Cocoa Beach, FL and am the youngest of eight children. My father spent 30 years as an attorney for NASA and he was working at Kennedy Space Center when I was born.  My mother stayed at home until I was in school, then returned to her career as a nurse.  

When I was five, my family moved to Washington, DC, after my father took a job at NASA HQ. I cannot tell you how cool it is to have been part of the NASA family back in the days when the space program was still a priority. We met astronauts, attended launches, and collected amazing space-related paraphernalia (including small flags that had been to the moon). Very cool stuff for a kid. My dad was General Counsel of NASA when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986. Needless to say, we didn’t see a lot of him for a long while. 

Because we lived so close to DC, I freely admit to tuning out politics for most, if not all, of my youth. Some things did make a big impression, like gas lines during the Carter Administration, the hostage situation in Iran, and all the whacky good times with Gaddafi. Okay, more bragging about my dad: He received a civil service award from Ronald Reagan in 1988 and I got to be there for it! I was actually in the same room as Reagan and was very disappointed to see he was wearing his ugly brown suit. Anyway, being in the White House complex and seeing Reagan in person showed me “politics” in a new light and I started paying much closer attention.                   

A young Teri Christoph, interning in Bush 41's White House. (I wouldn't do this on my own, but she mentioned her hair when she sent me the pic...)

I attended the University of Maryland at College Park, fully intending to major in journalism. Soon after I entered college, George H.W. Bush was elected president. An old friend of my father’s from NASA went to work at the White House for Bush 41 and she just so happened to oversee the Volunteer Office as part of her duties. Because the average age of White House volunteers is upwards of 60, they were thrilled to bring on a college student to help out. 

I spent a few wonderful years shuttling back and forth between College Park and the White House. Because I was a college student, they insisted I call myself a White House intern (which was still okay to do because it was pre-Monica Lewinsky) and let me enjoy the perks that go a long with that. I got to see and do a lot of amazing things and ultimately decided to change my major to government and politics. I eventually got a job at the White House writing presidential greetings. This was a life changing experience for me, without a doubt. 

2.      I remember going by the Smart Girl Politics table at CPAC 2010, wondering how this organization had gotten started. I’ve heard you tell the story, but many have not: What was the catalyst and what continues to be the mission of SGP?

 Smart Girl Politics started out in the summer of 2008 as the personal blog of our founder and president, Stacy Mott. I had been doing a bit of blogging around that time and happened upon Stacy’s blog as I looked for other female conservative bloggers. In November of 2008, Stacy posted an ad on her blog asking for women to contact her if they were interested in starting a group for conservative women, and I responded immediately, as did a few dozen other women. We weren’t sure where to go with it, but a path opened up when we fervently embraced social media tools like Twitter, just as our fellow conservatives were doing the same. Through Twitter, we were able to connect with many influential conservatives who very generously embraced our cause. 

I call the beginnings of SGP “the perfect storm” of Sarah Palin arriving on the scene, conservatives flocking to social media, and Obama becoming president. We had enough of a presence in early 2009 that we were able to jump right into the early tea parties and raise our visibility. Our organization grew by leaps and bounds during that period and we were off to the races. 

Today, SGP is a non-profit with two arms: Our 501(c)(3) concentrates on education and training while our 501(c)(4) takes on issues such as health and wellness, education reform and energy. Our ultimate goal is to engage, educate and empower conservative women.                              

The four Christoph kiddos. Teri tells me this pic was snapped a few years back.

3.      You’re a wife and mother of four! Tell us what you can about your family.  

My husband, Eric, and I have been married for 14 years and have four children, ranging in age from 3 to 12 (three girls and one boy). Eric works for a defense contractor and I am “officially” a stay-at-home mom. Unofficially, I put a heck of a lot of time into SGP and have loved every minute of it. We live in Northern Virginia, which is a great place to raise a family and lets me easily get into DC from time to time to see my awesome conservative friends. 

4.      Have you always been a conservative? Surely you must be asked “what kind” of organization Smart Girl Politics is. In that context, how do you explain a conservative perspective to others? 

I come from an Irish Catholic family and attended Catholic school for grades 1-12, so I was raised in a very conservative cocoon. My parents were big JFK supporters, so I always just assumed that meant we were Democrats. I didn’t think to analyze this when I was growing up, but I now realize that a JFK Democrat is, in fact, a conservative. 

It was not until I met my husband that I really embraced conservatism. He is the most well read person I know and he opened my eyes to some errors in the way I was looking at things. In my defense, Catholic school does tend to ask you to see things from a slightly socialist perspective. Having kids has only solidified my belief in all things conservative: Limited government, fiscal responsibility, strong national defense, the sanctity of life and personal responsibility. 

When it comes to Smart Girl Politics, we advocate a solidly conservative agenda similar to what I described above. We try to stick to Reagan’s 80/20 formula and pride ourselves on working very well with other groups on those issues that unite us. We are not looking to portray conservative women as victims, but rather get more women involved in their communities and ultimately grow the conservative movement as a whole. 

5.      Do conservative women face unique challenges that liberal or, perhaps, non-ideological women don’t tend to encounter? 

Heck yeah we do! But we don’t spend a lot of time complaining about it or letting it hold us back. As you can see from the vile media coverage of women like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, conservative women are a threat to the left because we think for ourselves and are steadfast in our beliefs, religious and otherwise. What has been lacking is a network of women that will stand behind our conservative “sisters” who want to put themselves out there as candidates, activists and role models. I hope that groups like Smart Girl Politics will be around for a long time to support these women and push back when they are mistreated.       

With Rebecca Wales, Tabitha Hale and another friend at the first 9/12 March in DC in 2009.

And I love when folks on the left go all crazy pants about the name Smart Girl Politics. We regularly receive letters bemoaning our use of the word “girl” in our name and berating us for being subservient to men. How wrong they are! We can call ourselves girls and not flinch one bit because being a conservative woman means embracing our many roles and refusing to let others define us. 

6.      I remember being surprised during a Twitter conversation one night several months ago to learn that the Smart Girl Summit was open to men who wanted to attend. (And many do!) Piggybacking on that memory…How can conservative men and women work together to advance the cause of limited-government and liberty?                                   The way I see it, the end game is the same for all of us. It would be counterproductive for the genders not to work together, and I wish to say loud and clear: Smart Girl Politics loves our smart guys as much as our smart girls. Our goal is to advance conservatism and grow the conservative movement as a whole. While we do sometimes rally around issues of particular concern to women, we do not, have not, and will never adopt an agenda of solely “women’s issues.” There’s too much at stake to be so narrow minded. 

7.      Are you a woman of faith and if so, how does this outlook impact your involvement in the political arena? 

I am a lifelong Catholic and would say, yes, a woman of faith. I am not one to make a big outward display of my faith, but my everyday life is rooted in my Catholicism. I aspire to be a more regular churchgoer, but the lessons are there with me all the time. I have found myself at odds with the Catholic Church of late, particularly their preaching on illegal immigration. And I’ve just started four sentences in a row with “I” so the Catholic guilt is starting to kick in. 

8.      Name some favorites you enjoy or would recommend in the following categories: Books, Music, Movies, Foods, Travel Destinations and a couple of miscellaneous items.

Books: I am a HUGE fan of biographies (I’m currently reading Decision Points). My favorite fiction book is The Last Convertible, by Anton Myrer. It chronicles a group of friends from 1940 through the Vietnam War and explains quite a bit about why the generations before mine believe what they do.

Music: I like rock and more pop than I should probably admit. I have two tween girls, so I get to hear quite a bit of pop music and it mortifies them when I sing along to it. So I sing louder. And, in case you were wondering, there is no Van Halen without David Lee Roth.

Movies: My favorite movie ever is “When Harry Met Sally.” Yeah, yeah, I’m such a chick.

Foods: It’s all about the baked goods. I seriously heart homemade chocolate chip cookies (thank you, Mrs. Tollhouse!) and chocolate cake. When I can tear myself out of the bakery, I like Thai food and Mexican food. Oh, and I’ve come to love sushi in recent years.

Travel: The Caribbean. I’ve been to several islands and would love to get to all of them eventually. I really, really want to see more of Europe (have only been to France and Germany), with Ireland being at the top of my list. Some of my mother’s family still lives there, so it would be such a thrill to visit.

More favorites: Diet Pepsi, margaritas (on the rocks with salt), the Bryant Park Hotel in NYC, Target. I am a girl of simple tastes. 

9.      Since you’ve been involved in the sphere of political activism, what have been some of the memories that stand out that have made you feel, “This is worthwhile! We’re making a difference”? 

I have met so many great people over these past few years, but my favorite times, hands down, are when I get to meet the grassroots activists who are out on the front lines getting things done. They are so receptive to SGP and so thankful for our efforts, but I want them to know how much we count on them. And they are, without fail, the nicest people, the real salt of the earth. Every time I return home from a conference or a rally, I am just stoked to keep going in order to support these great activists. 

One of the biggest thrills for me so far was being up on the stage at the 9.12 March in 2009. It was a privilege to be there and what an amazing thing it was to see wave upon wave of enthusiastic activists descend on the Capitol. A day I will never forget.                                                        

As Teri puts it, "Pictures of an 8th born are very rare indeed!" But here is one of those very gems. Those eyes haven't changed one iota in 30+ years!

10.  Who are 3 people that are role models for you…that inspire the life you have led?

Without a doubt, my parents are numbers one and two (interchangeably). They have the strongest faith of any people I have ever met, and that is something I greatly admire. Two of my siblings died as adults – can you imagine burying two children?! Well, my parents have done just that and remain incredibly strong in their faith. They don’t spend time questioning why this happened to them, but forge ahead and enjoy life with their remaining children, their nine grandchildren and five (about to be six any day now!) great-grandchildren. Plus, they raised eight children! Needless to say, they are amazing people.

It’s hard to narrow down a third role model, but I will say that I have had many great teachers along the way and they have each made a unique difference in my life. Especially the nuns. 😉

               

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