We are launching a new blog series honoring local heroes. Norman is such a wonderful place to live and there are so many awesome people doing great things. In the coming months, we’ll highlight people who are making an impact. Our first Local Hero is Emily Virgin, member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives since 2010.
We recently invited Emily to sit down with Barbara, owner and founder, in our shop to discuss her inspirations, the issues facing our community and why we need more women in the legislature.
You’ll find the full transcript of that discussion below:
Barbara: What is it like to be a role model in our community?
Emily: I'm still getting used to that title because I have so many role models of my own that I still think about as role models for young girls. ... My favorite part of the job is when groups of young girls come to the Capitol and I get to talk to them about what I do. Inevitably one of them or multiple girls says, "I'd like to do that when I grow up, too." That's amazing. I think that really highlights the importance of female representation because, when girls can see that there are girls at the Capitol, they see that they can do it too. If you don't see someone who looks like you, then how do you know that that's accessible?
Barbara: Who are some of those role models for you?
Emily: Oh man. When I was growing up - I worked on campaigns growing up - I always loved Laura Boyd, who held my legislative seat before I did. She was running for Governor when I was young, and I remember just really, really looking up to her and seeing that she was a strong female that was challenging the status quo, challenging the good-old-boy's club. I loved that. I've always been a huge fan of Eleanor Roosevelt. My dog is named after her. I think that she's another one that was so strong and didn't compromise on her principles. My grandmother, my dad's mother. I'm a lot like her. Unfortunately, she died when I was twelve. We spent so much time together. She really taught me about being an independent female and standing up for what you believe in. … I could go on and on.
Barbara: Those are great role models! … Who are some of the other women in office? And why is it important for there to be more?
Emily: Oklahoma is near the bottom when it comes to female representation in state legislatures. That's one of my main goals, is to get more women elected. I see not only that it's important for young women to see us at the Capitol, doing what we do, but also I see difference that it makes in policy making, and the difference that it makes in making sure that we're making the right decisions and being deliberative about them. I've really seen the effect that it has on the legislative body as a whole. … As you know, we have a lot of educators across the state who are running for office and a lot of them are women. That's a really important thing for us, as women, to support those women who are running for office.
Barbara: What are some of the main issues that need a woman’s voice?
Emily: All across the state, and in every poll that I've seen that asked about issues, education is number one. That's heartening because I definitely see that as the number one issue. I believe it's a foundational issue for everything else. We differ on how to improve education and how to get better as a state, but it's nice to see that everyone is at least in agreement that that's the thing we need to focus on.
Barbara: This year, you were pushing legislation for equal pay for women. How has that gone?
Emily: It didn't actually make it through the process and that's one of the reasons why I am more motivated than ever to get more women into office. … I think every woman in the legislature voted for that bill. It passed every time it came up for a vote. Unfortunately, on the very last day, the Senate decided not to take it up for its final vote. It's something that we will continue working on this next session. Oklahoma is definitely in need of improvement when it comes to that issue. … While there has been equal pay legislation before, and at the federal level, this has an important part that you can't be fired for talking about your wages or your salary with your fellow employees. That's something that we've found is a real hindrance. Women don't know to ask for a promotion or ask why they're paid differently if they don't know what their colleagues' making.
Barbara: That’s so important. Now, I know you’re from Norman. What made you decide to stay in Norman?
Emily: It really was never a consideration to move out of Norman. This is home and I love it so much. It's such a great community and I love how inclusive we are here in Norman. I love how much we value local businesses. My family's here also. … I think everybody at the Capitol gets tired of me talking about how wonderful Norman is.
Barbara: Well, you do have active, interested supporters.
Emily: Yes. That is probably my favorite thing about my district is that my constituents pay attention. They want to know what going on and they're always actively seeking more knowledge as to how we can improve and what's going on with the legislature.
Barbara: So, what are some of your favorite local spots around town?
Emily: Oh man. Well, Campus Corner is pretty much where I spend most of my time when I'm in Norman. Part of the year, I'm in Oklahoma City, so I have withdrawals for things like Coriander Café … and Antique Garden, of course. One of my favorite places to shop and get some game day jewelry! Let's see, what else? Crimson & Whipped Cream is such a great coffee shop. When I get to take my two year old niece there, that gives me a good excuse to get a cupcake. … Volare, Othello’s, Pepe’s …
Barbara: You really can just go on and on about the amazing restaurants! One of the things I love so much about Campus Corner, the restaurants are included in this, and the stores: they're locally owned. I think that makes the quality so much better.
Emily: Right. The main street, the downtown district, is really great also. Fortunately I live within walking distance of both of these, so I don't ever have to go too far.
Barbara: Why do you think it’s important to support these local businesses?
Emily: I could tell you from the policy perspective, as someone cares about municipal funding. We - the city of Norman and all cities in Oklahoma - are dependent completely on sales taxes. When you make a purchase online, we're not getting that sales tax. When you come to Antique Garden and buy something, that sales tax is going to support everything that you love and appreciate about Norman. Local business owners are our neighbors. Campus Corner would not be what it is without local businesses. If we just had a bunch of national chains, we'd lose the character of it.
Barbara: How does shopping online affect these places and the community?
Emily: The sales tax in Oklahoma, part of it goes to the state, part of it goes to the municipalities. Yes, we're losing tax revenue in both places of the state and city levels. The thing about it is, most people probably don't even realize when they're making a purchase online that they're not paying the sales tax. … We certainly feel it in funding essential services.
Barbara: What other big issues are coming up this year that you’re excited about?
Emily: Depending on what happens with State Question 779, we may be dealing with a teacher pay raise. That's something that absolutely has to happen, whether it's by the voters or through the legislature. We can't continue down the road that we're on. Education funding, teacher pay raises, hopefully getting equal pay passed, and there are always issues that come up that ... We've got criminal justice reform on the ballot this year. ... I think those are the things that we're going to probably work on the most.
Barbara: I'm happy for you. I think you've done a great job, and I’m excited to see what happens this coming year.
Emily: Thank you!Barbara: Well thank you so much for supporting our local stores and for your service.