In a month where Kentucky has received a lot of negative attention regarding Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk who has refused to issue marriage licensees to same sex couples, few Kentucky Republican politicians have stepped up to say anything against Davis’ decision. But when I asked State Senator Julie Raque Adams whether or not a state employee should be allowed to refuse parts of their job based on religious freedom she eagerly replied.
“As a state employee, it’s, she has to uphold the constitution and you know, needs to do her job or allow someone else in the office to do the job. And thankfully I think that that is the result that’s now happened,” she says. “It’s a shame that we’ve had to go through everything that we’ve gone through in order to get there.”
At 5’11’ Julie, she asked me to call her by her first name, is a towering figure. She’s bold, pragmatic, and doesn’t always tow the party line. She’s willing to work with Democrats, a rarity in today's partisan political climate.
This year she co-sponsored a bill to make Kentucky’s public spaces smoke free, even though her Republican colleagues in the Senate ultimately killed the bill. (2) Julie spoke out about the need to improve Kentucky’s health, ‘claiming that the numbers are too dramatic’ (1) when it came to Kentucky’s ranking in tobacco related illnesses. Kentucky ranks first in rates of lung cancer and second for heart disease, and has the greatest number of smokers nationwide, hovering at around 30 percent. (1)
Back in 2014, when Julie decided to run for the open Senate seat vacated by Sen. Julie Denton, the Courier Journal endorsed her, stating that she was the most qualified candidate and worked well with others. (3) She told me that this is just how she was raised.
“I always tell people, whether it was right or wrong, it's kinda how I was raised up in a legislative sense,” she says. “When I was on the city council, I was in the minority, and so I had to make friends in order to get anything done. When I was in the house, I was also in the minority and so I needed to make friends and be a collaborator in order to get anything done for my district.”
It is just this sort of political style that has allowed Julie to rise quickly through the political ranks. A graduate of Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame and George Washington University, she has worked for both Senator Mitch McConnell and former Congresswoman Anne Northup. Although she’s always had an interest in politics, Julie says that she never had a master plan. Her first run for office was for Louisville Metro Council because she wanted to put a stop sign in her neighborhood and felt no one was listening to her.
“I had a big bee in my bonnet about getting a stop sign on my street and it was kind of the impetus. I really wanted to have a stop sign, cause I had young kids and I wanted to keep them safe,“ she says. “So I told [my husband] nobody’s listening to me and I really want this and I’m thinking about running metro council and he said ‘okay’. He said we’ll have to make a few adjustments, but he said 'I’m in.'”
Throughout our interview Julie consistently repeats how important it is to her to be a wife and mother. She attributes all of her success to the support of her husband and two sons and that her political career has always coincided with what is best for her family.
“What has happened as I’ve evolved in politics over the years is that I’ve done the jobs that have been right for my family at the time,” she says. “And when I first ran for city council it was perfect because most of those responsibilities were in the evening and so I was able to take care of my kids during the day and almost tag team my husband in the evening. So he would get home from work and then I would go down to city hall and kind of take care of those responsibilities. But as the kids got older and I needed to be home in the evenings I thought well, maybe I’ll run for state rep because that’s a job that’s primarily during the day.”
Although Julie wouldn’t say she's a feminist, so much of her personality exudes feminist principals that it's hard not to define her as one. She believes in equality and that women can do whatever they put their minds to.
“I think that women should be treated like men and we should all go through life as equals,” she says.
When she was in graduate school she actually initiated the conversation with her now husband that led to him asking her out. Not one to be shy, she approached him by asking if he’d ever consider going out with a tall girl. He obviously said yes.
Julie recognizes that it’s different for women when running for office. She doesn’t run from questions about her gender and actually enjoys talking about some of the egregious questions she’s been asked over the years.
“The kinds of questions you get as a woman,” she starts. “I mean I remember the very first time I was knocking on doors and I had somebody say to me when I introduce myself, I said ‘hi I’m Julie and I’m running for metro council and I’d love to have your vote.’ And this person said, ‘does your husband know that you’re doing this?’” she laughs. “And I said, ‘shhh, I’m trying to keep it a secret from him.’”
Julie claims that her upbringing is the major contributing factor to what drives her today. She gives much of the credit to the decisions her parents made about her education.
“I tell my mom and dad all the time, I think that the biggest thing that helped me, um, kind of shape and figure out who I was, was the fact that I went to an all women’s high school and I went to an all women’s college. I loved having a single sex education because there was never a day in my educational life that I didn’t feel like I could do it,” she smiles. “I was always, I was very empowered through my education.”
Not only did Julie attend all girls schools, but she was raised Catholic, which also helped to form some of her policy beliefs. Julie is ProLife. She sponsored a bill this year that would mandate women to get ultrasounds prior to seeking an abortion. For her, she says, this is a woman’s health issue about informed consent, but she also realizes the need for comprehensive sex education and family planning.
“My parents were very active in the ProLife movement and my mom would do prenatal counseling with women who were unwed mothers, you know, and I remember that growing up and so, this issues has always been very kind of near and dear to my heart being Catholic and watching my mom and dad be involved,” she says. “But now as we get older and society is a little bit different and there’s more sexualization that is pervasive in our culture, and so I think that you have to adjust and you have to start to look at things like contraception.”
Consequently, Julie takes her ProLife position one step further. She is the only Kentucky Republican, who has at least said aloud, that she is opposed to the death penalty.
“It’s interesting, because when it was first pointed out to me I was presenting at The Right to Life conference downtown in Louisville and I was on a panel and a reporter asked the panel ‘who here is a opposed to the death penalty?’” she says. “And I was, shot my hand up, because I was, and I was the only one on the panel that was opposed to the death penalty, and it really struck me. I’m like, well, we should all be against the death penalty because, like I said, we shouldn’t be taking a life in the womb and I don’t believe that we should be taking a life from the jail house. That’s not why I was put on this earth, was to determine who lives or who dies.”
Julie agrees that Frankfort lacks diverse voices and that the lack of young female voices is detrimental to the political process. She’s a big believer that the best policies are made when you have a lot of ideas at the table because usually the best ones will bubble to the surface. But when a representative from a large segment of the population is missing, those ideas go unheard. This is why Julie is so adamant about being a mentor for young women. She credits former Rep. Anne Northup for helping her define her leadership style and wants to do that for other women in the Republican Party.
“I’m getting ready to issue a press release,” she says. “I’ve been working this summer in trying to develop a Republican response to Emerge and we’ve created a 501c4 and a 527 and we’ve titled it Kentucky Strong and it is just that initiative to reach out to Republican pro business conservative women and encourage them to run for public office.”
The Republican Party is long overdue for a leadership training course for women interested in running for office. Emerge Kentucky has been operating for over six years and has graduated over 120 Democratic women, several of whom have gone on to win elected offices. (4)
“I think women have a real sense of figuring it all out. I think we’re great multi-taskers. I think we can figure out how to have a win, win, instead of having a win lose,” Adams says. “Sometimes I think that the male ego requires a win/lose and I think that for the most part, my experience I can honestly say I think that women will figure out a win win if at all possible.”
Julie is casual, easy going, and approachable. It’s obvious that she is comfortable in her own skin and is confident in what she believes and who she is. I ask her what advice she might give women who want to get into politics. She smiles.
“Losing or failure, those are not debilitating to my personality, and they shouldn’t be debilitating to anybody’s personality because we’re all gonna win some and we’re all gonna lose some,” she says. ”But we have to just keep trying.”
Julie Raque Adams, Kentucky State Senator.
Did your same sex education shape you as a leader? I welcome your responses.