It started over a stop sign.
Julie Raque Adams returned home to Louisville after working in Washington, D.C., and found her new neighborhood lacked a stop sign. With two young boys, she wanted to ensure families on her street were safe from speeding drivers. When she got nowhere requesting a sign through the normal channels, Adams took a different approach.
“ I thought, I’m going to run [for Metro Council] and I’m going to get my stop sign,” Adams recalls.
After six years as a Louisville councilwoman and three years in the state House, Adams is now a state Senator representing northeastern Jefferson County. She also chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. Adams appeared on KET’s Connections to discuss her legislative priorities and her efforts to recruit more Republican women into politics.
Adams says she was fortunate to have good role models in her early days: She served on Sen. Mitch McConnell’s staff, and she was a campaign manager and press secretary for former Congresswoman Anne Northup. Despite that experience, Adams says people still questioned her decision to run for office.
“When I first ran for Metro Council, I would have people ask me, ‘Who’s going to take care of your children when you go to work?’” Adams says. “When I ran for the state House of Representatives, I had one woman say to me that she was going to vote for my opponent because she thought that I needed to stay home with my children.”
Her response in both instances, Adams says, is that she would be a good role model for her sons by being a public servant. Plus, she says she could advocate for policies that would help children and families.
Making Kentucky Smoke-Free
One such issue for Adams is smoke-free legislation. It’s a platform she’s promoted since her days on the Louisville Metro Council. Adams says her constituents initially opposed the idea, so she had to work to educate them on the health and economic benefits of a smoking ban.
“A healthier workforce makes us more attractive for businesses that want to locate here,” Says Adams. “ It increases worker productivity [and] it lowers costs for businesses to operate.”
The council approved Louisville’s ban in 2005. Now Adams has set her sights on making the entire state smoke-free. But with Kentucky’s legacy of tobacco production, the idea has not been an easy sell. Several earlier attempts at such legislation have failed to get floor votes in the state legislature, despite bipartisan support.
Some critics of a statewide ban contend local communities should decide the issue, an argument Adams says she understands. But she says smoking-related health problems cost the state some $2 billion in Medicaid payments alone, which makes the matter a statewide problem.
“The 27 percent of smokers in this state are reaching into the taxpayer wallets and they’re pulling money out, and I think that the majority of people are not happy with that,” Adams argues.
The Republican says she hopes to revive smoke-free legislation in the 2016 session, and she looks forward to convening tobacco interests, health advocates, and the business community to discuss the best policy approach.
Another issue Sen. Adams’ Health and Welfare Committee will likely tackle is the Medicaid expansion. Adams says she disagreed with former Gov. Steve Beshear’s executive action to expand Medicaid eligibility. She says the state simply can’t afford to keep those promises Beshear made to the commonwealth.
“So the only options that you have when you don’t have enough money to pay for these things [are], do you compassionately roll back certain aspects of the program or do you raise taxes?” Adams says.
Adams says she believes Gov. Matt Bevin will work with legislators to find a reasonable middle ground to change the Medicaid system while protecting the state’s finances. Such changes could include new eligibility requirements and asking beneficiaries to make small premium payments or copays for services.
“I think there are some compassionate approaches that we can take to so that our most vulnerable are protected, and those who are on the margins are also protected, and then the taxpayers are protected,” Adams says.
Recruiting Republican Women
In the Louisville Metro Council and in the state House, Adams was a member of the minority party. She says that experience of having to work with Democrats to achieve policy goals helped shape who she is and how she works as a legislator.
Now Adams is turning her attention to getting more Republican women into politics as the executive director of an organization called Kentucky Strong.
“Kentucky really lacks that female voice at the public policy table,” Adams says. “All issues are important to women, but there are some that we truly can lend our voice to and it’s absent right now.”
Women represent almost 51 percent of the Kentucky’s population, yet they only comprise 17 percent of the state legislature, and there are no females in Kentucky’s federal delegation.
Adams says the reasons why more women don’t run for office are complicated, ranging from the traditional demands of motherhood to personality traits that eschew conflict. Plus, she says the state’s geographic spread makes balancing family and legislative obligations in Frankfort difficult for lawmakers traveling from far eastern and western parts of the commonwealth.
Kentucky Strong launched last fall, and Adams says she’s excited by the response the group already has received. The organization is recruiting conservative, pro-business women and providing them training and support on how to run for and hold elective office. She says sometimes all a woman needs is to be asked to run.
“It’s such a rewarding job… and I wish other people could have that experience,” Adams says of being a lawmaker. “I want to reach out and tell other people that you can do it, that you are worthy.”