WASHINGTON, DC – The board of trustees of the powerful Heritage Foundation on Tuesday announced that it has unanimously elected longtime conservative stalwart Kay Coles James as the new president of the flagship conservative think tank.
The past year has seen high political theater on almost a daily basis in the nation’s capital, from presidential politics to congressional scandals and blockbuster Supreme Court developments. Only a couple steps down from that primetime-newsworthy material has been Heritage’s search for a new president for the conservative juggernaut.
Former president Ed Feulner retook the helm on an interim basis following the resignation of Sen. Jim DeMint in March 2017, and there has been nonstop speculation in D.C. since then as to who would permanently lead Heritage in what many people see as a window of extraordinary opportunity.
An early sign of James’s clout within the organization, and the conservative movement as a whole, was when she was tapped to lead Heritage’s search committee for a new president. When another trustee nominated her for consideration in her own right, she stepped aside from the committee and former Attorney General Edwin Meese chaired the selection process that ultimately led to unanimous support for James.
At age 68, James has served in government at the federal, state, and local levels. President Ronald Reagan first appointed her to the National Commission on Children. President George H.W. Bush then appointed her associate director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, then the Senate confirmed her nomination as an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A decade later, President George W. Bush appointed her as the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Most recently, James served as a senior adviser on the Trump presidential transition team.
James talks about the formative influence of growing up as a young African-American woman in the South during the final years of racial segregation, growing up in a broken home with a mother on welfare and no father in the house. She responded to all these challenges by developing a determination to succeed in life, one that eventually led her to the conservative beliefs that have been central to her personal and professional life.
“My definition of a black conservative—actually I believe it’s a definition for any good conservative,” said James, “is someone who has the audacity to believe what their grandmother taught them.”
She has also spent years in the private sector, both as a defense contractor and an author. In addition, she has served on the board of Heritage for 25 years.
An evangelical Christian, James has also worked in the private sector as a senior vice president at the Family Research Council, on the board of Focus on the Family, and was formerly the dean of the Robertson School of Government at Regent University.
James takes the helm at Heritage as the bastion of conservative thought reaches new heights in influence in Washington, DC. Many of Heritage’s best and brightest have gone on to key positions in the Trump administration, covering the gamut from diplomacy and the military, to health care and taxes, to homeland security. The rare combination of unified Republican government creates an opening for pursuing conservative solutions to problems that have lingered for decades.
Her challenges include replenishing her ranks, helping the new administration develop and implement conservative policies to deal with the nation’s challenges, persuade Congress to do the same, and to be ready to hold the administration and lawmakers accountable when they stray from those principles.
A tweet quotes her as saying, “I’m in awe of this treasure you’ve built” at Heritage.
"You have my commitment: Heritage is safe with me. I’m in awe of this treasure you’ve built, and I pledge to you that I will protect it and grow it with the greatest care possible." @KayColesJames will be the next president of @Heritage! https://t.co/uhQHxA8Vu4 pic.twitter.com/nQBfTMVl7B
— The Daily Signal (@DailySignal) December 19, 2017
James formally takes the reins of the Heritage Foundation on January 1.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.