About Red State Women
Board of Directors
President, Lara Keel
Lara Laneri Keel is regarded as one of the top female lobbyists in Austin. With twenty years of experience in and around the Texas Capitol, Lara has paved the way for women in the industry. A Texas Tech alumn, Lara started her career as a staffer in the Texas Senate and worked her way through the ranks.
Following her career in the Texas Senate, Lara was a Lobbyist for the state’s largest business group, The Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce (TABCC). As a Government Affairs Director, Lara directed a three-tiered campaign involving grassroots, communications and coalition building, as well as legislative activity and lobbying.
In 2002, Lara joined the Texas Lobby Group, where she is now a partner, representing interests of clients before state legislators, regulators, and Texas policy makers. She was named the top female hired gun lobbyist in Capitol Inside’s Texas Lobby Power Rankings in 2011 and 2013, after first being named a “Rising Lobby Star to Watch” by the same publication in 2006 and 2007. Lara was also named an Austin Business Journal Women of Power/Influence Winner (2010).
Lara is a part of the Texas Capitol Group, which is an unprecedented alliance of experienced, ethical and hard-working professionals in the Austin lobby that has been named the #1 Top Lobby Team by Capitol Inside every year since its inception in 2006.
In her spare time, Mrs. Keel is Treasurer of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute (TCCRI) and on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of the Texas Association of Business (TAB). Lara also serves as a volunteer and Board member of Dress for Success, a charity that empowers women in need by transforming clients from disadvantaged women to empowered professionals.
“I can think of no one who is a greater woman of power and influence in representing businesses before the Legislature and agencies in Texas than Lara Keel. She is a standout in her field.” Austin Business Journal Nancy Ebe, President, Ebe & Associates, July 30, 2010.
Lara and her husband John live in Tarrytown and attend St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Born and raised in Burleson, Texas, Cristen Wohlgemuth was born into civic duty, some of her earliest memories are of block walking with her mother and other local candidates.
After graduating from Texas A&M in 1998, Cristen followed her passion for government into teaching at Naaman Forest High School where she was named Social Studies Teacher of the Year in 2000.
After several years of teaching, Cristen reached out to her policy roots. In 2003, Cristen began working as the Director of Operations for CancerTogether and then later in Governmental Relations for the Texas Pharmacy Association and as a Legislative Consultant for Three Point Strategies.
In 2007, Cristen’s in-depth policy knowledge led her to the Office of Governor Rick Perry as a Budget Planning and Policy Advisor and then to Chief of Staff for tenured State Representative Warren Chisum.
Cristen currently serves as Chief of Staff for State Representative Craig Goldman and Policy Director for the Texas House Republican Caucus.
The granddaughter of two democrat local elected officials from the small South Texas town of Hebbronville, Texas, Mia Garza McCord is the daughter of Gloria and Arnoldo Garza, Jr. Through hard work and encouragement from her family, Mia graduated valedictorian of her high school class in 2001 and moved to Austin, Texas to attend The University of Texas where she majored in Spanish Literature with a minor in Portuguese.
In January 2005, shortly after her graduation from UT, Mia was presented with an opportunity to become a legislative intern through the Moreno/Rangel Legislative Leadership program with the Mexican American Legislative Leadership Foundation. She was placed in the office of former-Representative Elvira Reyna (R- Mesquite), the first Hispanic Republican elected to the Texas House of Representatives. This internship sparked not only an interest in making policy and politics a career choice, but brought Mia to the understanding that her background, values and beliefs aligned with those of the Republican Party.
After the 79th Legislative Session, Mia gained political fundraising experience through her work as an account manager for Lilly and Company, an Austin based Republican political fundraising firm founded by Susan Lilly. Mia worked with candidates at both the state and federal level and in 2006 with the guidance of Susan Lilly, took the lead in fundraising for the 2006 Republican State Convention in San Antonio.
Yearning for a deeper knowledge of Texas policy, Mia returned to the state Capitol in 2007 to work for then freshman State Representative Kelly Hancock (R- North Richland Hills) during the 80th Legislative Session. Deciding that she equally enjoyed both policy and campaigns, she would return to work for Representative Hancock for two additional legislative sessions, while using the interims to work on grassroots campaigns.
Mia currently serves as Senator Hancock's chief of staff in the Texas Senate. She is married to John McCord, political director of the Republican Party of Texas, and has an infant son John Mark who became a focal point for pro-life legislators and groups during the abortion debates of the 83rd Regular and Special Sessions due to his 14 week early birth in 2013. The McCords live in Cedar Park and are members of Lake Hills Church.
Cari Christman, Executive Director
Cari Christman is a native Texan who earned a dual degree in Political Science and Education from the University of Texas at Tyler. During college, she began volunteering on local campaigns, which spurred her involvement with the Texas Young Republican Federation. Cari became President of the Tyler Young Republicans and went on to serve at the state level as Vice-Chairman and National Committeewoman. In 2003, she was elected to serve at the national level as Co-Chairman of the Young Republican National Federation.
Cari began her professional career in campaign politics, managing and serving in various roles on state and federal campaigns across the state. In odd years she began serving as a staffer in the Texas Legislature beginning in 2001 and since that time has worked 7 regular legislative sessions and numerous special sessions. Cari has worked as a staffer for the Texas House, Texas Senate and U.S. Senate.
Cari is a life-long Republican, having served as a delegate to nearly every Republican Party of Texas state convention since 1998. In 2000, at age 24, she was elected by her congressional district to serve as an Alternate to the Republican National Convention to nominate our 43rd President George W. Bush as the Republican Presidential Nominee.
Cari and her husband, Chris Ott, live in Austin, Texas with their five-year old son, Aiden, while their eighteen-year old daughter, Jordan, attends Texas Tech University.
Carrie Simmons, Communications Director
Carrie Simmons is an expert manager, specializing in integrating policy and communications. Carrie has a diverse background serving in political and communication arenas.
Starting as a legislative aide in the Texas House of Representatives, and later as an account associate at a Public Relations and Affairs firm, she catapulted herself to Executive Director of the Texas House Republican Caucus.
Carrie served the needs of 95 Republicans Legislators in the Texas House of Representatives for over six years, three legislative sessions and multiple special sessions, providing a unique expertise. Carrie holds a degree in Public Relations from the University of Texas at Austin.