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Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams accepts prestigious John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award

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Posted at 5:54 PM, Jun 10, 2024

(LEX 18) — Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams accepted the prestigious John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in Boston on Sunday night. He was given the honor for his political courage in pushing back against false claims from election deniers and working to expand voting options in Kentucky.

While accepting the award, Adams said he wished "that political courage should not have to be a thing," but he believes incentivizing it "may be needed now more than ever before."

"Today’s politics penalizes the workhorse and rewards the show-horse," said Adams in his acceptance speech. "It prizes provocateurs and punishes problem-solvers. And now that social media have made everybody an expert in everything, we risk descent from the Madisonian model of democracy - in which we elect our best as trustees to run our government on our behalf - to a tainted model in which independent and judicious thought by our leaders is not encouraged."

"Indeed, leadership is out, and followership is in. In this model, our elected representatives simply take direction from the reigning mob of the moment," Adams added. "This form of direct democracy is an illusion."

The Kennedy family created the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 1989 to honor JFK and "to recognize and celebrate the quality of political courage that he admired most."

According to John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, the "award recognizes a public official at the federal, state, or local level whose actions demonstrate the qualities of politically courageous leadership in the spirit of Profiles in Courage, President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer prize-winning book, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. Senators who risked their careers by embracing unpopular positions for the greater good."

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JFK's only grandson, John Schlossberg, presented Adams with the honor. He said Adams put country and election integrity first when he worked with Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear to expand absentee and early voting during the pandemic and when he pushed back on false claims of election fraud by election deniers.

"That wasn't easy, and he took a lot of heat for it," said Schlossberg. "His efforts to protect ballot access and respect the results of the 2020 election made him a target. The vast majority of his party opposed him. Adams, his staff - even his family - received death threats and physical confrontations. And members of his own party recruited two challengers to unseed him in a primary."

"It got so bleak that in 2020, Adams believed his political career might be over," Schlossberg added. "He responded with optimism and courage. His strategy was simple but not easy. He focused on communicating the facts with voters who didn't believe the election was safe or secure. He took time to explain specifics about why absentee and early voting were safe. And it worked."

Adams later worked to make expanded voting options permanent.

"We’ve quadrupled the number of days to vote," said Adams. "We’ve made it easier to vote by absentee ballot. We’ve established voting centers, so voters won’t be turned away if they show up at the wrong place."

Schlossberg noted that Kentucky voters rewarded Adams in his re-election effort a few years later.

"In 2023, the same man who won by a hair in 2019, was now the top republican vote getter in Kentucky," Schlossberg said. "He won 118 out of 120 counties."

Adams credited Kentucky election officials and voters for rejecting false claims and election conspiracy theories.

"Kentucky state and county election officials – here too, not just me – have been willing to vociferously rebut false claims of vote fraud and election rigging," Adams said in his speech. "Moreover, our voters deserve credit too. Because when we’ve had candidates for these positions, and for our state legislature, who traffic lies and demagoguery about our elections, our voters reject them."

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"You might say, when it comes to elections – to the expansion of democracy, to results that are fair, free, and accepted whether one wins or loses – Kentucky is a special place," Adams added. "You might even say, “Don’t let it be forgot, that for one brief, shining moment, there was Camelot.”

Adams expressed hope that people continue to reject falsehoods and defend fair and free elections.

"May this award, and this ceremony, inspire others across our country, at this critical time, to go and do likewise," Adams said.

Schlossberg said Adams' political courage should be honored "by casting our ballots in November."

"His sacrifice is a great reminder to all of us that the right to vote is sacred," Schlossberg said. "Don't throw it away by staying home or voting for someone who can't win."