How I Lead: Crystal McIntyre on Balancing Family Life and County Government

CrystalMCrystal McIntyre was elected a supervisor of Warren County, IA, in November 2014. A Republican, originally from Texas, Crystal served in the US Army as a counterintelligence special agent from 1988 - 91. She is mother to six children, whom she home-schools. Crystal attended the WFAN annual conference in November 2015, after talking with then-board member Kate Cloudsparks, who lives in her district. We asked Crystal to share some of her experiences and goals as a woman in public office who is supportive of healthy food and farming and women's leadership. Here are her replies.

1. Tell us a little about your background.

I grew up in the small West Texas town of Brackettville. Ranching was a part of my life until moving to the big city of San Antonio when I was 10. I missed the land, even if it was desert. Upon graduating high school, I joined the US Army where I traveled the United States from the East Coast to the Midwest, Arizona, then back to the East Coast to Maryland for my final duty station. I went to college along the way, getting a teaching degree but only using it for one year. My calling in life has been that of mother to my 6 children, who range from 23 to 5 years of age. I love teaching and did go back to school for a degree in naturopathic medicine; I love helping people stay or get healthy. Teaching and exemplifying growing our own food using what we have where we are and using the highest quality ingredients when we do prepare our food is a huge part of where I take folks who want really good health. Now, I help people in my office to learn about their County government and connect them to resources that can help them better their lives.

2. Why did you decide to run for office? 

I felt that the other person running for the supervisor position did not represent our family life or the values of our county, so I felt they probably would not vote the way most of our friends and neighbors wanted out of someone representing them. My goal when I decided to put my name on the ballot was educating the public, teaching them what has been happening in their county -- and whether I won or lost, I would learn so much, too! I look at being an elected representative as being a servant of the people. I despise the term elected "official," for I am no official of anything! I represent and serve, and it is my duty to know whom I represent and they need to know me, my core values and what my convictions are, because then they will know where I stand when issues come up for a vote.

3. What were your biggest obstacles in making the decision?

My family, who were also my biggest supporters, and the commitments already in my life that I had to rearrange to accommodate running a campaign then serving in office. I was home-schooling my children, and had extensive community involvement with different organizations. My time was already scheduled out, and shuffling everything to then basically promote myself, which was a hurdle I had not considered before, took on the hours of a full-time job! But once I was committed to running, I did not even glance back.

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4. What were your biggest challenges in running for election?

Where to start! What to do first when there were 10 different things you could focus on that day and do all of it on a very limited budget. I think running a household, a farm, or your own business, you face the same challenges, only now you have primaries and general elections as deadlines!

Do you feel any of them are specific to women?

Women, in any field, have to prove themselves like everyone else. I experienced this in the Army, in working, and even at home on the farm. “I may be tiny, but I’m strong!” I’d say, when someone doubted I could drive the equipment or lift something heavy.

The district in my county that I ran for was ¾ of our county area, and mostly rural; consequently, door-knocking was a real test of endurance. Instead of walking to each door, I had to drive -- and these were gravel roads mostly, which had not been maintained very well at that point. Being a woman, driving these back roads, some that I was not familiar with, knocking on a door in the middle of nowhere not knowing who or what would answer, being invited in and taken on tours of their barns and other prized possessions was a treat at the time -- but looking back, I can see the risks. I had a wonderful girlfriend who became my driver, so I did not have to go it alone most of the time. I would highly recommend always having a buddy!

5. How did you overcome these challenges, and what did that teach you?

My biggest challenge came from those who were already in office. Our county has a three-member board of supervisors, and the person I would eventually replace was not running again. That previous board, however, had made some serious mistakes, which made the news and resulted in a lawsuit against them. During the primary, I found out that my opponent had been handed-picked by the other board members! So I made my campaign about how he would definitely keep things “status quo,” which would be a problem. What was I to do after I beat him? Well, I actually liked my opponent in the general election, so I made the campaign from that point about the current remaining members. It worked beautifully until I won the election and realized now I have to work with these guys! They really made it tough on me at first, as my preference is to be inclusive and kind. What was a girl to do? Well, patience paid off, because about four months in, I caught them up to their old tricks! It has been a battle ever since that time.

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6. What are your biggest goals as a county supervisor?

Well, the only campaign promises I made were to be open and honest, true to my principles and values, and stand up for those departments in the county that were getting “shafted”! I would like to keep taxes low and provide quality services for the public, but taxes may have to go up because our services have been cut so low! I have also discovered our jail/courthouse is in desperate need of repair; consequently, I have spearheaded a committee and now hopefully a bond referendum that passes to build a new judicial building for our county.

I also feel that at the county level, people pay taxes for protection from our sheriff and his department, and to have good roads and bridges maintained by our engineering department. I have fought for increased funding for them since I was sworn in, and their budgets have increased without raising taxes; in fact, we lowered taxes last year and will sustain them this year, despite a small increase in our budget from new growth.

7. Where do you find your network of support? Did/do any other women help you along the way?

Support comes from both sides of the aisle and from people who were never political in the first place, as well as employees of the county who say they finally have hope, and members of the public who thought the prior board was a “good ole boy” system and are glad to see change! The majority of my support comes from women. The very first thing that happened when I went to get my papers for a petition to be on the ballot, the woman in that office was the first to sign my petition! During my campaign, I met a women in her 80s (although you would never know it) who has been to every supervisor meeting for 25 years, and I lean on her knowledge and expertise as well as her wisdom. Another woman came up to me, introduced herself, almost single-handedly ran my campaign -- and has since become my best friend. She was sent straight from heaven, I am sure! Without these key women in my life now, I would not know half as much, or maybe not even have been elected.

8. What are your plans for the future? Any further political office in the works?

My family is my very first priority. They give me the confidence to accomplish all I can in life, and I owe them my loyalty and devotion. Thus, my plans for the future center around them and their needs. I have no further political plans for office but, then again, I never planned on being where I am now, either!

9. Anything else you'd like to add?

By being in this position, I am afforded opportunities for enlightenment, growth, and dealing with things not so good, too. The true test of character, I feel, is to give someone power. Let’s see how those with power do; then you can see the true nature of a person. I hope other women are strong and want to push themselves to the point that they too can serve others with all they possess. Never forget who you are and why you serve.