October 20, 2017
Josie Raymond is running for State Representative in Louisville’s District 31, which also happens to be where she grew up. At 32 years old, Raymond is a first-time candidate, but she’s deeply knowledgeable about the causes on which she has long focused her work: alleviating poverty, child welfare, and improving education and access to higher ed. (She is also, full disclosure, my former editor at Change.org.)
We recently spoke about the threats to women’s healthcare in Kentucky and why, after leaving to live elsewhere, Raymond moved home to raise her kids in the same district where she grew up.
You have a deep history in Louisville but left for school before returning to your district a few years ago. What brought you home again?
It was predestined, I guess! I grew up here in Louisville. My sister-in-law did one of those genealogy things, and on both sides of our family, we go back eight generations in Kentucky. Initially, I left because I went to Columbia University in New York and wanted to prove something about myself to myself. And I did that, but I also had a really hard time socially, academically, and culturally. I wanted to be a journalist, and I thought all journalists lived in New York—and maybe they did in the ‘90s. I graduated [from grad school] in ’08, and I was writing about poverty and solutions to poverty because I’d grown up in poverty. I had the urge to do more, so I joined Teach For America. By then, I was married to my high school boyfriend. We went to Indianapolis, which changed me profoundly, and again, I had a really hard time. After two years, my husband was like, get me out of Indianapolis, so we went to California because why not? In Oakland, I worked at a nonprofit focused on college access. And all along the way, I was gaining skills and experiences, meeting so many different people who have the same problems and want the same things.
At the same time, I desperately wanted to grow my own family, and we kept waiting for a community that felt right to us. Finally, we said, let’s go home. Home was never where we were living. People ask me if I like it here in Louisville. I can’t answer that, but it feels right to be here, doing the things with my kids that I did growing up like going to the pool—things that did not feel possible in New York or Oakland. Service feels different here—in my work with youth, and in education—and it it feels more urgent and more connected. Because the people I’m serving? They’re my people.
It sounds like a beautifully intense experience. What has surprised you so far? Does anything bum you out about campaigning?
It’s not the events and procedures that get me down. It’s the negativity. I’m told to wait [until I’m older and more experienced], that my makeup is not up to par, that my voice is not the right fit for this type of role—all things I’ve heard from Democratic women, by the way. That’s what slows me down. It’s surprised me so much and disappointed me so much. But at the same time, it motivates me to provide a different archetype for a candidate. Win or lose, so much good is going to come out of this campaign. I think I’m gonna win. But if I don’t, I’ll survive. I’ll find another way to contribute to my community. Men and women will see this—men and women my age. You don’t know our representative? That’s his fault, not yours. They’re seeing me—anyone—knock on their doors for the first time!
What does that mean? Why are you the first person to knock on constituents’ doors? Did you know that going into this?
Coming from this district, I know we’re missing the engagement piece. We’ve had the same representative since we elected him in 1990. He last had a primary challenge in 1992. This is a Democratic district, and he’s a Democrat, but he’s one of the most conservative Democrats in our statehouse. So the accountability has not been there, and the engagement is not there. There are no town halls, no email newsletters, no website updates. I think that has a negative effect. People feel disconnected, and voter turnout drops. And people feel confused since Trump was elected. Our representative is a Democrat in a Democratic district, and he does not think to engage and assuage people. He needs to go. We can do a lot better.
I’m knocking on doors in apartment buildings, and I recently met a woman who has no car, no phone, no job. That’s about as low as it gets in America. And she still shows up and votes in every single primary. But she’s the only one in her building who does that, and she’s never met anyone who’s running for office.
It still surprised me because I don’t see a way for her, in particular, to climb out of poverty. She’s three blocks down from my house, which cost a lot of money. It’s been incredible to me to witness. The wealth gap is often this abstract concept, and I don’t think people always realize we’re living it block to block in our cities.
How long have you been considering running?
I’ve always been a really political person. I was involved in politics growing up, and I majored in political science. I did not think of myself in that realm, though, and I went into journalism and then to teaching and then direct service. I gained skills at a breakneck speed through all of that: speaking, entrepreneurship coaching, and now fundraising from sitting the boards of the Louisville Girls Leadership, an intensive leadership development program for high school girls from every school in the city, and Summerbridge Louisville, a free summer school program for underserved middle school students. After a decade of direct service and hearing pretty sad stories every day, I know how lives turn on policy decisions. And I ended up asking: how can I solve this larger problem better than solving this immediate crisis? That drove me to run for office.
I’m a studier. I’d been studying how to run for a couple of years, but I’m not Machiavellian enough, I don’t think. Some of this just fell into place. We bought our house off a FaceTime tour when I was five months pregnant and we were still living in California. My mom and dad are still here, and now we’re a mile from both of my parents in my home district.
I had watched campaigns and knocked on doors. But I hadn’t worked on campaigns. I didn’t know what was coming at me. I knew that this needed to be done, and I could run a great race. I knew I could fundraise what I needed, I knew I could knock, and I knew I could do the messaging. I also knew I could make people feel dignified and heard.
I was gonna run when Hillary Clinton was gonna be president, so the race I’m running now has more behind it. It’s more critical, both the policy reasons but also that our sons and daughters need to see more women represented in public space.
Someone said to me recently, welcome to politics. I said I thought I was in the child welfare business, not the politics business. For me, campaigning is about keeping my wits about me and bridging those realms. What if politicians said, I’m in small business development? I’m in agricultural reform? I’m in pension reform?
How have you seen your district evolve in your lifetime there?
When I first got back, I was like huh, nothing's changed at all. Restaurants, stores, streets, neighborhoods—they’re all the same on the surface. I mean, okay, our K-mart did close. But really, when you meet people, when you get around, the population has changed—that’s the biggest thing.
Louisville has really embraced immigrants. My neighborhood is fairly diverse. It’s middle and low income, and I live on a cul-de-sac with five houses. We have a three-generation Vietnamese family. We have a Somali family. We have a retired Republican, a single mom, a one-year-old, and an 80-year-old. Most people don’t expect or even observe that. The elementary school where I’m gonna send my kids is 25% ESL.
Because Louisville has been a hub for resettlement, it’s not just Latinos. It’s Africans, Middle Easterners, Asians. I think it’s beautiful, but it’s about making those people feel connected and visible.
What do you think non-Kentuckians misunderstand about your state?
I think a lot of people think of Kentucky’s shape on the electoral map on TV, and it’s red. But just like everywhere else, we have blue cities surrounded by red. Our last governor was a Democrat. Our Kentucky state house that I’m running for? In ’16, it flipped from Democrat to Republican for the first time in 95 years. All throughout the Obama administration, we had a Democratic governor.
It’s important to lift up that there are all views here, and we’re on a tightrope. Here in Kentucky, we’re the darling of ACA implementation. We’re a leader in getting insured in ACA under our previous governor, and our new Republican governor is similar to Trump in many ways. He wants to take insurance away from millions, institute a Medicaid waiver, and start charging premiums on vulnerable people, take away dental coverage, and on and on.
At the same time, he’s challenging abortion laws. You may have seen that in Kentucky, we could become the first state without an abortion clinic. It really feels like we’re straddling this line right now, like we’ve reached a crisis point for Kentucky. What do we want our state to look like? How do we want our neighbors to be treated?
Trump scares me because depending on what his administration dismantles, it won’t be programs we can just put back again.
We will eventually prevail, but yes, the real concern is: how long will it take us to undo the damage?
What else weighs on you?
My core issues are everyone’s core issues: wages, healthcare, and education. Unions are under attack here. The minimum wage here is $7.25. There are threats to healthcare.
We need to vastly expand pre-K and make college affordable to all families. Right now, I work at the University of Louisville coaching struggling freshman. They have many issues but major one that often makes it impossible for them to stay in school: poverty.
With my candidacy, it’s icky to think of it as representing something larger, but I’m engaging people in 2017. I do not want to increase turnout and lose, but it’s a possibility. That would not be so bad if my neighbors feel more empowered and connected to the process. But between 2016 and 2018, there’s gotta be more going on than watching crazy news to make them feel like they can change something.
This profile is part of She Is Running--our ongoing series profiling some of the many women who have decided to run for office in the wake of the 2016 election. Read the intro to the series here, and stay tuned for more. In the months ahead, we’ll meet women running for office across the nation. We’ll focus on the stories of compelling candidates running for state representative, governor, and U.S. Congress—and of course, we’re open to suggestions. If you want to refer a candidate or make the case for interviewing a prominent mayoral candidate, get in touch at [email protected].