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Dr. Naren James enters U.S. Senate race

STANFORD —  Lincoln County already had a vested interest in the U.S. Senate race in the upcoming May 19 primary, with local farmer and retired Marine Col.  Michael Broihier a Democratic candidate for the office. Now that interest is two-fold, as Dr. Naren James of Stanford has thrown his hat into the senate race.

James, a local physician and Stanford City Council member, announced his decision to join the charge to try and unseat Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell Tuesday evening in a public event at the Lincoln County Public Library.

But, unlike Broihier who would have to get through the primary to face McConnell, James will go head-to-head with the long-time senator in May in the Republican primary. James, who planned to officially file his campaign papers today (Thursday), grows the Republican primary ticket to three candidates. He joins incumbent McConnell and former state representative C. Wesley Morgan of Richmond.

James’ decision to announce his candidacy followed a 15-month personal debate over whether to pursue a federal office.

“I thought someday I’d like to run for federal office. I thought, when the current congressman resigns, I’ll think about it,” he said. “Somehow a voice spoke to me and said, ‘Why not United States Senate?’ I thought, ‘That’s really insightful.’ It seemed so outlandish and I tried to put it out of my mind for months but it kept coming back to me. I prayed about it and fasted about it. I talked to several people in the political arena who are faith-based, and they all told me, ‘Naren, this is a really dumb idea but, if you really have that conviction in your heart to do it, then do it.’”

But before he could run for office, James, who is originally from Guyana, South America, decided he had to do some fact-finding and learn the qualifications to run for U.S. Senate.

“I realized it was very simple,” he said. “You have to be a naturalized born American or naturalized for at least 10 years to run for the United States Senate. So it’s certainly a privilege. I’ve been a U.S. citizen for the past 20 years and have lived in the country for the past 30 years, so I’ve lived here more than any other place. I’ve lived in Kentucky for 25 years and 23 years here in Stanford.”

“I wonder sometimes when did I become truly American. I guess tonight probably reveals that in that I could take such a bold step. It’s uniquely American when you think you can achieve something bigger than yourself.”

James said he became pro-American much earlier than that, though, relating that his oldest sister of 12 siblings was the start of his American story. When she came to the United States to attend college in Wisconsin, a family took her into their home and treated her as if she was their own child. Then, after she graduated, they asked for another sister to come.

“That’s what truly made me pro-American,” said James. “It wasn’t so much our foreign policy or anything. Purely, the mere beauty of that one single family … who adopted us as a family. That journey started two families from totally different parts of the world coming together because of the goodness of that one American family.”

James, who was the 2017 recipient of Kentucky’s Citizen Doctor of the Year award, has been active in the local community since coming to Stanford 23 years ago. In addition to his medical practice, he has helped make changes through his work on the Stanford City Council, the Lincoln County Health Department Board, the Lincoln County Public Library Board and the Lincoln County Ambulance Board. He also worked to keep the local hospital open, helped promote the needle exchange program in Lincoln County with Dr. Shea Lair and worked with the Isaiah House.

James now hopes to make changes at the federal level by challenging McConnell, who has held the U.S. Senate office since 1984.

“I want to start out by saying I have a deep respect for the senior senator from Kentucky, who I am seeking to replace. Actually, he was very instrumental in helping me become an American citizen, so I owe him a debt of gratitude. So it’s nothing personal at all,” James said. “It will be a campaign about ideas and issues and not personal. I think the senator has done a great job. It would be hard to criticize him on many issues because we actually share many of them in common. He’s done an excellent job for the state of Kentucky.”

“My main issue is I do think it’s time for a change. I think sometimes it’s hard to tell an old warrior when to take a seat, when to retire. And that may be where we are.”

James touched briefly on the many concerns he has for the country, beginning with health issues, especially the opioid crisis.

“In the year 2017, 50,000 people died from opioid drug overdose,” he said. “As a family physician, I have been witnessing this national epidemic for several years. For the past two years, the life span in America has dropped. For two years consecutively, and that’s really unfortunate. Recently, the public health looked into it and realized it’s not just purely opioid overdose. We are also having an issue with public health across the nation in terms of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer.”

After seeing the deaths of two local citizens in their 50’s due to heart conditions, James worked with former Stanford Mayor Eddie Carter on the Get Healthy Stanford program to highlight the importance of public health at a community level. James said, if he wins the seat, that he hopes he “can bring that to the larger, national level.”

James also voiced a strong need to improve race relations and combat anti-semitism and religious intolerance.

“We’re absolutely in a time of very difficult race relations across the nation. It’s really exacerbated divisions in our society racially,” he said. “And we have to combat rising anti-semitism and religious intolerance which is something that is eating at the heart, the fabric of our nation. I’m a great admirer of Martin Luther King … I do believe Martin Luther King represented the best  of the American tradition. That is why in every city you can actually see his name on streets, for good reason, as he actually promoted the idea of content of character and not the color of skin.”

“I think we need to get to a color blind society. I think, honestly, it would be in the interest of society, especially the majority white population, to get the more color blind society where race and color doesn’t become an exacerbated thing in our politics and our dialogue. I don’t claim to know all the facts about how it can happen, but I think we can create a regime of legal and other framework where we can move more toward a color blind society.”

James’ political concerns do not rest solely within the United States. Global actions are also of great concern.

“Abroad, we have threats from a rising China, a combative Russia and a terrorist Iran. At the time of this event and taping, we are actually dealing with a fresh crisis in Iran of the killing of terrorists there,” he said. “I think it’s really amazing what the potential is for harm internationally to Americans and, of course, our national interests.”

“But my greatest passion nationally is religious liberty. Here in America and abroad, we are a bastion of religious liberty. I think our amendments to our constitution really reflect well the beauty of the American society. That we really created a society where the minority has a substantial latitude of rights. That’s amazing and not something you would find everywhere.”

Religious liberty would be a key part of James’ foreign policy engagement.

“We have to be a promoter of liberty abroad. America is in a unique position to promote that,” he said. “It is unconscionable that in a country we support militarily, that there are very empowered laws such as Afghanistan, where, indeed, one man was declared insane just to not be executed because he became a Christian. That needs to end. We need to have a strong stance.”

On the homefront, James has growing concerns that the United States has lost the national consensus on the rules of governing.

“We are at a state of national crisis of governance,” he said. “We have always had differences over issues, but now we have fundamental differences over the national consensus as to how we govern ourselves. That’s a huge problem. That’s like playing basketball and not agreeing on the rules of the game. That is extremely dangerous.

That could lead the whole society to fall apart.”

“I would be a serious person in the U.S. Senate to help make sure we recapture the whole issue of national consensus of how we govern ourselves. We need to figure out how to do it ourselves because nobody’s going to tell us how to do it.”

Rules of governance is not the only issue James sees as a problem in the U.S.

“We are essentially in a cold civil war. How is that reflective? Well, just look around. You could look at states that are opposed to the current administration. They are actually fighting every administrative effort,” said James. “In the past, it was a national consensus that, once elections were over, we start governing and the elections are behind us until we get to the next election. Now, we seem to be in a state of perpetual elections. We can’t govern like that. The issues that face us transcend a two-year cycle or six-year cycle for that matter … So we’re in a cold civil war based on states not cooperating with the federal government, treating federal immigration officials as terrorists because they disagree with federal policy and loss of respect for the institution and for due process. That is extremely troubling to me.”

James also touched on the current political spectrum during his announcement.

“Major issues are not being solved because the current elected political class, and I will not name names, there are many, especially in the federal level, who are more concerned about preserving power than to get things done on behalf of the American people,” James said. “Whether you are on the Republican party or the Democratic party, whichever side, that is unfortunate. I think we need to move beyond that. We have to recognize that doing the business of the people is the most important thing.”

Fiscal discipline is also an area that James feels needs to be restored in the U.S.

“What would I do differently as a U.S. Senator? I would insist on regular order,” said James. “There is no regular order in congress right now, everything is happening with massive omnibus bills. Can you imagine how you’d run a business like that? One month before the end of the year you decide, ‘I’m going to just throw all these things in and just vote on it.’ You put up 300+ pages and you hand it to everybody the night before and say we have to vote on this. Everybody comes together and votes on it. That is unfortunate. We have no way to figure out the best way to do things. So we have the massive omnibus spending bills that come out with massive spending loaded with goodies from borrowed money which worsens the deficit.”

There is a constant buzz about elected officials and their lengthy, sometimes life-time terms and the need to set limits, and James has joined in that buzz.

“We need term limits desperately,” he said. “I think maybe 24 years both between the house and senate, then you need to come home and live under the laws. I think it will change a lot. If you’re cognizant of the fact that, after you’re finished (serving), all the laws that you passed are going to be something you have to live under, it will really change you. We have current politicians that are continually passing laws that they will never have to live under.”

“I think senators and congressmen need to stop thinking about their own seats. They need to stop thinking they own those seats. Too often we have people, literally, you have to take them out of congress on a stretcher because they will not leave. The reality is it means there are so many people out there, like myself, who want to serve that can’t get there because incumbency is so strong.”

While many Democratic candidates have used the slogan, “Ditch Mitch,” in referring to the upcoming election, James says his campaign isn’t to put McConnell out of office because of issues, but to bring in new life.

“I believe there are monumental issues before us that will require people of faith and integrity. I do believe that Republicans and Democrats are ready for a new type of candidate with new ideas, new life experiences to bring to decisions in Washington. I certainly can bring that,” said James. “I am a person of faith, a born again evangelical Christian from 18 years of age from my home country of Guyana, South America. Although I grew up in a Hindu home and went to school with muslims and Hindus and a few Christians, I have been changed by my personal journey with Christ, whom I consider my Lord and Savior.”

“I would like to consider this campaign more of a retirement party for the current senator. I’m hoping that May 19 we have a grand retirement party for the current senior senator,” James said. “I’d be the first one to wish him the very best because I do believe he needs to move on.”

James, who resides in Stanford with his wife Hannah, says he looks forward to the journey in his campaign for the U.S. senate and that he hopes to serve the best interests of many.

“I don’t need this job. I’ve been a physician for over 26 years now. I love what I do and the patient engagement. But I offer my time, talent and personal financial involvement for the best interests of all of Kentucky and for our nation, for indeed this is the land of the free, represented by the flag standing beside me, and the home of the brave,” said James. “I will bring a voice for rural Kentucky into the United States Senate.”

While it will be an uphill battle to unseat McConnell, James says he hopes maximizing modern technology (free media and social media), volunteers, financial support and prayers and encouragement will see him through. But most of all, James asks that people get involved..

“All of us, whether natural-born or naturalized, like I am, have to decide whether we are renters or owners. If you are owners, you take ownership. You’ll be concerned with deficit. You’ll be concerned not just living today but what your grandchildren will be living under. I encourage you to take ownership, get involved in my campaign or someone else’s campaign. Just get involved.”