Lawmakers who need information about the state's workforce and the public services that they provide, don't have to look far to find Ardis Watkins, SEANC's Legislative Affairs Director, a fixture in the General Assembly. For the past 12 years, Watkins has served as the association's lead lobbyist not only in "the building," but in all state agencies where the association's 55,000 members hail from all 100 N.C. counties.
Watkins leads a team of five seasoned legislative veterans who meet with lawmakers, provide legislative and policy research and speak at committees on behalf of public employees. Watkins has worked on hundreds of legislative priorities over the years, but the one with the most impact on her was a SEANC-led effort to keep the Schools of the Deaf in Morganton and Wilson and the Gov. Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh open to the state's children in a safe and nurturing environment.
In 2009 and 2010, budget shortfalls led to proposals to shutter one of the schools for the deaf. Both of the schools are residential with students receiving an invaluable education tailored to their special needs. Without such schools or the closure of one of the schools, deaf children would be sitting in the back of a classroom alone with an interpreter isolated from the rest of the student body. In many circumstances, the employees at the schools were not only instructors; they were former students who learned important life and professional skills at the school.
Fortunately, SEANC's efforts led to all the schools being maintained. Several members of the General Assembly met the students, parents and instructors at the schools who understood the importance of their mission.
"I'll never forget meeting the children at the deaf schools and school for the blind. No one wants to be put in a corner as a child and singled-out as different. Here the kids aren't different, they are just kids – and lawmakers got it."
When the legislature is not in session, Watkins tours the state providing legislative updates and listening to state employees' views and concerns about what's going on in Raleigh. She also is regularly quoted in the media on stories directly involving state employees and retirees and on pro-consumer legislation, conflicts of interest and pay-to-play scenarios in state government.
A double graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Watkins is a native Texan turned Tar Heel with undergraduate and law degrees from the nation's oldest public university.