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Entrepreneur turned politician Kirk Adams, BSB/A ’99, never sought a political career. Instead, it found him. Today, after five years serving in the Arizona House of Representatives, this small business advocate is setting his sights on Washington.
Former Arizona State Representative Kirk Adams didn’t always want to be a politician. But after working for 15 years at The Adams Agency, the insurance agency his father established, this small business advocate found himself serving in public office. After five years at the state level, Adams—a father of six and fourth-generation Arizonan—has set his sights on filling a seat on Capitol Hill.
Initially Adams was reluctant to get involved in politics, but in 2006, he was appointed to the Arizona House of Representatives to fill a vacant spot in Legislative District 19, just a few months prior to the election, which he then won. Adams found that he relished the opportunity to represent small business in this official capacity, and he was elected to two more terms. “I ran for speaker of the House concurrently with my re-election in 2008,” he explains. He won that, too, becoming the youngest person in Arizona history—at age 35—to hold the office.
An entrepreneur at heart
As speaker of the House, Adams was faced with a budget crisis and other pressing state issues, but he managed to accomplish many of his goals. “In March , we passed the first truly balanced budget in state government in at least five years,” he notes. “This was the culmination of three years of very hard work.”
Adams and his colleagues also passed a package of business tax reductions and took on public pension reform. “We had a few years of some success and some failure, but we were always moving toward the goal line,” he says. “This was a very proud moment for me as speaker.”
The art of communication
A keystone of Adams’ success has been his ability to communicate persuasively to his audience, a skill that served him well as a member of the Arizona Legislature and as speaker of the House. “It was absolutely key,” he stresses. “Communicating to the public through the media is obviously very important. It has to be very disciplined and on point.”
He found his one-on-one communication with other members of the legislature to be just as critical to his success. “My job was to constantly listen, teach and persuade [them] to support a certain bill or move in a certain direction on policy,” he explains. “The third form of communication is negotiation. You are never going to get anything done in a legislative body without it.”
In April 2011, Adams resigned as speaker in order to run for U.S. Congress in the 2012 elections. With U.S. Senator Jon Kyl serving as honorary chairman of his campaign, he has been busy making preparations. “I am campaigning on one platform: It’s time to make tough choices,” he says. “I can’t think of anything Washington needs more right now than a bunch of grown ups making tough choices, attacking problems that have been ignored.”
He is facing the future with an optimistic spirit. “For the first time in a generation, I have seen high-ranking members of Congress step forward with real solutions at some political risk [to themselves],” he says. “I am anxious to be part of that team. In the next few years, we will determine the next 10 to 20 years in our country, and I am excited about that.”
Though he has his eye on Capitol Hill, Adams remains grounded in his small-business roots. “Small business is the best preparation I could have had,” he says. “As a business owner, I have had to look objectively at my finances—at what is working and what is not—and make those tough decisions. This is a skill that is very necessary and translatable to politics. I feel optimistic about my ability to lead others to make decisions that are necessary for us to secure the financial future of our country.”