Kay Coles James Addresses Heritage Staff

Heritage Lecture Conservatism

Kay Coles James Addresses Heritage Staff

December 19, 2017 12 min read

The Heritage Foundation announced Kay Coles James will become the sixth president in the think tank’s 44-year history. James will officially take over as president from founder Edwin J. Feulner on Jan. 1, 2018. The following remarks were delivered to staff on Dec. 19, 2017.

EDWIN J FEULNER: Thank you all for joining me, Phil, and the leadership team of Heritage this morning.

You know why we’re here----to make the exciting announcement the name of, and introduce you to, to the new President of The Heritage Foundation.

OK--I’ll break the suspense: I am happy and delighted to announce the new President of The Heritage Foundation: Kay Coles James.

I want to thank all of you, very sincerely, for your patience during this search process.

Let me give you some background about the process, which led to where we are today. It started in May when our Board established a Search Committee and hired an internationally renowned search firm.

The committee, composed of eleven board members, was charged with directing the process and interviewing the finalists. The Search Committee is headed by our fellow Trustee, Ed Meese.

Regarding the search firm, the Board chose CarterBaldwin, which came highly recommended by a number of conservative leaders around the country.

Over the course of many months, the firm reviewed hundreds of candidates, some of whom applied for the position, others of whom were suggested by conservative leaders, and still others who were contacted by the firm.

There were a number of qualified candidates for this job. On behalf of our Chairman, Tom Saunders, our whole committee and the entire board, I want to thank each of them.

Kay is a well established leader in the conservative movement.

Let me tell you about this extraordinary person.

Kay was Secretary of Health and Human Resources under Virginia Governor George Allen, and led 15 agencies responsible for health and human services within Virginia. Those agencies had over 19,000 employees, and a budget of $8.4 billion.

While Secretary, she helped defeat universal healthcare coverage and led the effort to pass comprehensive welfare reform. As she reminds us, when Michigan and Wisconsin were reforming welfare with “pilot projects”, Virginia was implementing it State-wide! She also led a downsizing initiative that resulted in a ten percent reduction in full time personnel.

Later, Kay served as the Dean of the Robertson School of Government at Regent University. Under her keen leadership, the school restructured its curriculum and created a professional services career program. While at the University, she consistently exceeded fundraising goals and even secured the largest single contribution in the history of the University.

After George W. Bush became the 43rd President of the United States, he appointed Kay to be the Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a department of 3,600 employees. Kay was responsible for the 1.8 million members of the federal civil service and the $650 billion in federal employee’s assets.

After 9/11, she designed the staffing plans and personnel management policy to merge 170,00 employees from 22 different agencies into the new Department of Homeland Security.

More recently, we worked together at the Trump transition, where Kay and Ed Meese led the team for the Office of Management and Budget, Office of Personnel Management, and General Services Administration.

Qualified, yes. Superbly qualified, to be sure. But there is much more to Kay James than a resume of impressive jobs.

I have known Kay for more than three decades, when we first met at a CNP meeting.

She is warm, engaging, principled, funny, smart and kind-hearted. She is a consensus builder. She believes in, and will continue the Heritage culture. And she will build on our many successes. And under Kay’s leadership, we won’t miss a beat---at a time when Heritage must be fully engaged in the policy debate.

She is the quintessential American success story. Her life story is truly remarkable. She is the right person to be the intellectual voice and face of The Heritage Foundation for the future.

It is my distinct honor to introduce Heritage’s dear friend, fellow conservative, Heritage Board member, and our new President, Kay Coles James.

KAY COLES JAMES: Thank you, Ed, for those incredibly kind words.

It is not only the honor of a lifetime to be introduced as your “successor” but – I must admit – it’s a bit scary too!

To borrow Newton’s phrase, we stand here today on the shoulders of giants. The modern conservative movement owes its start to individuals like Russell Kirk, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Jay Parker. But it’s men like Ed Feulner and Phil Truluck who took the powerful idea of conservatism and made it an American reality.

When you think about it, the Heritage Foundation is so much more than this building or what we do here in Washington. Heritage is its people, who are the living embodiment of the hopes and determination of millions of Americans – Americans who are driven to make this nation even better than how they found it.

That’s what Ronald Reagan was talking about when he said, “Once you begin a great movement, there's no telling where it will end.” And that is Ed and Phil’s legacy.

Sure, giants can be intimidating, but that’s not true of Ed and Phil. (OK, maybe a little at first!)

Ed has not only been our leader for 4 decades, he’s been a friend and mentor to so many of us in the conservative movement. When this young housewife became involved in public policy “30 (mumble)” years ago, it was Ed who so often helped guide and shape my path.

We also know that ideas aren’t much good without those who have the skill to implement them. And it was Phil who did so and whose hand can be seen everywhere we look.

So to Ed and Phil, I want to say thank you – from the bottom of my heart. And I want to make a pledge to you, too.

I know the vision and determination it takes to grow an organization the way that you have, and I also know that handing over something that’s this precious and valuable is so hard.

So, Ed, Phil, 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.

You see, from the very first day I stepped foot in the Heritage Foundation all those years ago, I knew I’d found a very special place.

As it is to millions of people, Heritage is many things to me:

  • The single most significant force in American conservatism,
  • The home of the most extraordinary scholars and staff I’ve ever met,
  • A network of dedicated alumni, who are not just a key part of the Heritage family but a vital asset for promoting our agenda in every corner of America,
  • A leading center for the training and expertise of the well-equipped team that’s so crucial to advancing our principles and beliefs,
  • And the living vision of the trustees and benefactors whose generosity supports us. Their intent is and will always be honored, and their resources will continue to be shepherded wisely – because what they’ve helped to create must and will last for generations.

But Heritage stands for even more than the sum of its incredible parts. Heritage stands for its purpose.

What we believe, what we develop, what we fight for – these are the policies that help people.

That’s why I am a conservative.

I have seen throughout my life that freedom is the only means by which people can reach their aspirations. That’s why I also know that the principles we cherish – the ones for which our Founding Fathers fought – must be protected. And the fight for those principles will never end.

Heritage is – simply put – “Command Central" of this fight and the home of the conservative movement. It’s not just a place where smart policies are made – it’s where difficult problems are solved.

And in the nearly 45 years since Ed and Paul Weyrich first opened the Heritage Foundation’s doors, many of those problems have been solved.

From historic tax cuts and missile defense to welfare reform and school choice and so much more, Heritage has been nothing short of a solutions factory.

Take, for example, Heritage’s work for economic opportunity. We simply can’t have a truly robust economy if Americans – all Americans, regardless of their age, race, gender, or background – are unable to pursue meaningful employment in the field of their choice.

That’s why Heritage has always promoted economic growth and opportunity – and why it has never wavered in opposing those who would burden our freedoms and future with the suffocating force of mindless regulations and punitive taxes.

Similarly, we know how crucial it is for America to have the strongest, most technologically advanced, and most effective military to defend our freedoms. That’s why we have and will continue to provide the data and research that the brave men and women who serve our country need.

Here, too, Reagan had the perfect words to describe what I mean. As he put it:

Success in politics is about issues, ideas, and the vision we have for our country in the world. In fact, the very sum and substance of the work of the Heritage Foundation.

Heritage has not only been a success here at home – it’s also served as a beacon to freedom-loving people around the world. What Heritage says and does to advance conservative principles and individual freedom guides an international audience – much to the disdain of some world leaders!

Their disdain is our badge of honor and our call to action. We will never shy from honoring our proud legacy, and we will never stop elevating the ideal of individual freedom, most especially to all who live under the crushing weight of totalitarianism, Marxism, and socialism.

But our work isn’t done – because there are many more problems that must be solved.

This century isn’t even two decades old, and yet it’s already confronted us with enormous challenges – challenges that strike directly at the core principles that all of us here hold so dear: free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional values, and national security.

Last December, I wrote these words in a piece published by The Daily Signal:

Children who should be thriving are instead living in broken homes. Poverty that should be shrinking is instead rising. Streets that should be peaceful are instead rocked by violence. Schools that should be nurturing excellence are instead factories of failure. And seniors who deserve security instead fear what tomorrow may bring.

Yes, I was writing about my community. But these problems can be found everywhere that liberalism has left its devastating mark. In inner cities. In Appalachia. In the Rust Belt. And in far too many white, brown, and black communities from coast to coast.

That’s why the work of this extraordinary institution is so important. We’re not just a bulwark against the Left. We’re a battleship for liberty.

I thank God that the Heritage Foundation exists. To guide America to renewed greatness. And to take the fight to liberalism.

That’s why I consider it to be such an awesome privilege to serve as your next President.

So, to the wonderful people who are Heritage, let me pose the question that many of you are probably wondering right now: who the heck is this lady is who’s about to take the helm here?

I suppose I could answer that question by reeling through my resume. But that would only tell you what I’ve done – not who I am. So let me instead answer your question by sharing a story:

When I was 12 years old, I started attending an all-white middle school.

To say we weren’t welcome is an understatement. Despite the Supreme Court’s Brown versus Board of Education ruling, Virginia Democrats insisted on keeping the public schools segregated.

So 25 incredibly brave black kids and I tried to change that.

For a while, navigating the packed hallways meant being jeered at, stuck with pins, shoved, and even kicked down the stairs.

I see it on your faces – yes, it was awful. But it was worth it. You see, I’d been given a great gift – the opportunity to fight for something I believed in. And it changed me forever.

You know what? I’ve never stopped fighting for what I believe in – and I don’t plan to start now!

During my career, my fights have been for the sanctity of life, education equality, welfare reform, an end to racism, and more.

And today, I feel like I’m just getting started. Because I have been given another great gift – the opportunity to join you in the battle for the principles we hold dear.

As I look around this room, I see people of immense power. Working together, we have the power:

  • To expand the conservative movement in a positive, inclusive way.
  • To recruit and join forces with millions of minorities, women, and youth.
  • To lead the way to conservative victory.
  • And to put a long-overdue end to the failure that is liberalism.

As we wage these battles, I know there will be much that I’ll need to learn from you. I intend to ask you a lot of questions and you’re going to find in me a very careful listener.

But you should also know that there are a few things I already know to my core:

  • The Heritage Foundation’s compass will always point true North.
  • Our people will always be our greatest asset.
  • Your policy analysis and entrepreneurship will remain the most trustworthy, dependable, and accurate in the movement.
  • We will shape the future – not by doing things differently but by doing what we do so well.
  • And there will never – ever – be a day when we fail to protect, preserve, and honor that very special culture that is Heritage.

We have all been given that gift I first received when I was twelve: the opportunity to fight for what we believe in. And fight we will.

This moment is so special. We are here – right now – for the same reason that drove Ed and Phil all these extraordinary years:

  • to protect and preserve the principles and values of America’s founding,
  • and to build an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish.

Together, we will achieve that vision and build a future worthy of Heritage’s remarkable past.

And as we do so, I know we will also fulfill some words that have guided me personally for much of my life. On the day before he was assassinated nearly 50 years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

We have an opportunity to make America a better nation … to make America what it ought to be.

He was right.

This is the time.

Heritage is the place.

And you are the ones.

America needs us to do what the Heritage Foundation does best.

So as Ed always says, ONWARD!

Kay Coles James Inaugural


Edwin J. Feulner
Edwin Feulner, Ph.D.

Founder and Former President

The Hon. Kay James

Emeritus Trustee since 2022