My mom was a housekeeper and my dad was a welder. He eventually started his own small business in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which my family still owns and operates. It had been a thought that I might run for office, but I guess I always thought it would be much later in my life — something I would do when I was close to retirement. Still, I studied political science at the University of Wyoming, and after I graduated my husband and I moved to Washington D.C., where I worked for the former U.S. senator from Wyoming, Craig Thomas. In 2004, we left D.C. so I could go to law school in Colorado. Three years later, we moved back to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

I worked at the Wyoming attorney general’s office, had my daughter, and passed the bar. But after I had our second kid in 2009, I realized my work schedule just wasn’t terribly accommodating for my growing family. I remember a friend of ours telling me that we always think about how we invest our dollars, and you’re your best investment. If it means living off your retirement savings to take that chance — as long as you have a good business plan and put your best foot forward — the worst thing you can do is fail.

So I left the attorney general’s office and started Ellis Public Affairs as a way to still be involved but have a little more flexibility in my schedule. We did PR work and lobbying. It was just me and one intern. I wanted to keep my business really small and manageable. I was concerned that if I started growing my firm too much it would start taking over my life more than I wanted it to.

Last year — after I had that moment at the Senate debate with my daughter — wasn’t the most opportune time for me to run for office, obviously. I had my own business. My kids were 8, 6, and 3. But I felt so strongly that we needed women in the legislature. And looking in the Wyoming Senate, the average age was 60.

Around this time, I also had a relative who was struggling with some undiagnosed kind of dementia/Alzheimer’s issues, and then a young friend of mine passed away. You start realizing that the days you’ve got on this Earth are numbered, so don’t wait to do the things that you’ve always wanted to do.

One big thing was that obviously if I got elected I could no longer be a lobbyist. So I wound down all of my clients that I represented in a lobbying capacity before I ran, but I kept the smaller PR clients. My husband and I also have a small investment company that we use to support some local businesses, which I kept.

My goal was to knock on every registered voter’s door, and I was so successful in doing it that I was able to do it twice. There’s no substitute for getting out there, meeting people at their doorsteps, asking them if they have concerns and letting them known some of those issues that you care about and want to work on.

During the last 15 years or so, Wyoming has had a tremendous boom in our economy. For years, we enjoyed high natural gas prices, a robust coal industry, and we were able to build a whole bunch of new schools and revamp our education system. But prices of natural gas were dropping, and our coal industry was shrinking to the point where several of out prominent coal producers were in bankruptcy. So I knew the state was going to face significant financial challenges and I think I was drawn to those challenges, particularly in education. My biggest concern was how we would manage financial cuts while still taking care of our kids and making sure those dollars are being spent in the classroom and not elsewhere on things that are not as important. I think my knowledge and passion about that really resonated with people.

The legislature will consume as much time as you want it to. In Wyoming, we’re a very part-time legislature, so we only serve 40 days during our general session in odd-numbered years and 20 days in our budget session during even-numbered years. I do wake up early and go to bed late, but I make time to work on my businesses and volunteer my time, and that’s work I do outside of being a legislator. I’m probably going to make a career transition back into law at some point as well. I just haven’t quite committed to an opportunity yet.

Most days I honestly can’t tell you exactly how I spend my time — I’m constantly switching hats and running to different things. Things that are making this successful for me are having a really supportive spouse and community. My mother-in-law also lives here, and we have a great support network that can pick kids up from soccer practice, go to a recital, they’ll do anything to help us. People often ask me, “Who’s watching your kids?” and I’ll say they’re home with their dad, and I’ve heard some people say, “Is he a good babysitter?” I cringe because he doesn’t babysit them. He’s their father. He’s raising them like I would. I’m almost certain that my younger male colleagues in the workplace don’t hear that question.

My kids are aware that this is a time commitment I’ve made. Sometimes I can’t be there for some of their activities, but I hope they take away that if they see something they want to be involved in, it does require making sacrifices, but it’s important to care about where you live and your neighbors and your community. This summer my daughter — she’s a very mature 9-year-old — we got in my camper and we went to my interim committee meetings together. I think it’s important that she sees her mom in those kinds of roles.

I’m so glad I decided to do both. I love running my businesses, but I had sort of hit a plateau of challenging myself. Now I also have to deal with constituents who show up angry and learn how to talk to them. I’m being asked to be a keynote speaker at college graduations. There are difficult parts of public service, but it provides tremendous personal growth. I feel like I’m very much sitting front row on issues that matter. I have perspective.