Lori Bartley is tenacious, prayerful, bold — and not especially patient, she admits. “I have a big personality,” she says, adding that she “can shut down a room full of men in two seconds flat.”
That combination of courage, self-determination and faith helped her survive a difficult childhood and other bumps on the road to becoming a college graduate, entrepreneur and, now, a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Bartley is running to represent Texas’ 18th district, and is doing so on a staunchly conservative platform that emphasizes free-market economics and improved gun access, among other traditional Republican policy positions.
Bartley also advocates for more government support for small business owners, particularly those who don’t qualify for traditional loans, and for government-backed initiatives to help entrepreneurs reach larger markets of customers.
She is a critic of the Export-Import Bank of the United States for “only serving big business,” including large corporations like Boeing, instead of helping small business owners. A priority for her as a congresswoman would be diverting those funds back to entrepreneurs, she says.
So far, her vision has resonated with Republican voters — she won a March primary election with 34 percent of the vote and May runoff election with 58 percent of the vote. She’ll go up against incumbent Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee on Nov. 8.
For the decade before launching her campaign, Bartley operated LA Strategic Solutions, a venture that helped other small businesses get their back offices up and running. And Bartley says her experience as a service-oriented entrepreneur points her to the kind of “employee” she wants to be, if elected to serve her district. “In this campaign, I’m the one being ‘hired’ by the people to represent them — I have to make sure I’m always informed of what their needs are.”
After all, that dedication to, and focus on, others helped her firm stay afloat for over ten years — until, in a moment of divine inspiration, she closed up shop to enter the world of politics.
Hard-Learned Lessons in Life
Bartley was born, raised and educated in Texas, earning her degree from Texas A&M University in 1992 and then working there in administrative and educational roles for two years.
The earliest years of her life were fraught with struggle, however. “I made it through childhood in a home that most children would’ve died in,” she says, adding that she suffered “tremendous tragedy,” including periods of homelessness and hunger, all before reaching 21.
After grappling with a lifetime of difficulties in Texas, “I decided I was tired of being in the same circle as where I was born,” she says. So she “picked a point on a map,” and found herself in Breckenridge, Colo.
It was a life-changing decision. Bartley met her husband, Dean, there and found work first in education and business administration, then later as a certified mediator in drug, alcohol and domestic abuse counseling. Eventually, she took on a new challenge — entrepreneurship.
In February of 2002, she formally opened up shop (as Bartley and Associates, before changing the name in 2009), hitting the ground running with a contract to help a local storage business. The venture grew until it was consistently working with 20 small firms. “I would go in, set everything up that they needed as far as keeping records and files, bookkeeping, paralegal work … to maintain their overall productivity,” she explains.
She never hired any employees, opting to do the work entirely on her own. “I was my business, and my business was me,” she says. “My name and my word are the most valuable things that only I own.”
Until 2014, she continued to serve an ever-growing roster of clients, giving them the tools they needed to succeed — and at the same time, finding some welcome personal freedom.
Bartley chose entrepreneurship primarily in pursuit of work/life balance and an ability to work from home while raising her four children, three of whom grapple with mental illnesses and learning disabilities. She says her main focus was always being “in the front row” of her kids’ lives. “I was able to advocate for them.”
Her children, who are now 25, 21, 18 and 16, have always been her top priority. In fact, on rare occasions when both she and her husband had to be away, she entrusted their care only to her parents or in-laws — echoing of the same hands-on, high-standard approach she takes to all endeavors in her life.
“My personal touch was what gave me the next client, the next customer,” she says. And it’s the same approach she now takes to galvanizing voters through her congressional campaign.
Entrepreneurial Drive on the Campaign Trail
Bartley’s time as a business owner — especially as one who helped other business owners — has influenced her policy views. “I understand some of the roadblocks that dissuade people from following their dreams,” she says.
She says it has also helped her in politics, by teaching her to be more organized, more detail-oriented and more pragmatic. “A campaign has to be run the same way as any business.” It also strengthened her resolve and confidence, and built up her character, she says.
Meanwhile, campaigning has helped moderate her self-confessed lack of patience, teaching her the value of trusting in a team while working with campaign volunteers. “I had to learn how to be able to delegate — to choose individuals whose gifts fell into specific categories.”
She sees this shift as an opportunity to help people “take something they feel is just a hobby, or a dream, or a thought, and make it into something great that can become a business, or a trade, or however they want to fulfill their American dream.”