‘Great policy makers’: 48 elected pharmacists in national, state office

2014 election results: Pharmacists in politics

In November 2014, pharmacists across the country were delighted to hear the news that a pharmacist was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and is taking a seat in national office.

“No one can represent us like one of us, and now Members of Congress will know that I’m the only pharmacist in Congress. When there’s an issue in pharmacy, they’re going to come to me,” newly elected Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA), BSPharm, the former Georgia state senator, told Pharmacy Today. (See page 40 for more information.)

In the states, pharmacists were also victorious. Of the 27 incumbent races, 25 seats were retained, and 3 of the 6 races for new candidates for state-level positions were won. 

Currently, there are 47 pharmacists in state-level office and 1 in national office, according to the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations. Of the 48 pharmacists in office this year, 39 are Republicans, and 9 are Democrats. But all elected pharmacists can agree that their background is an asset and gives them added insight into health care issues that their colleagues admire. 

Educating influential people

Iowa state Rep. John Forbes (D-40), BSPharm, is the only pharmacist in the 150-member Iowa State Legislature. He’s even performed medication therapy management (MTM) on the Iowa House floor for 12 of his colleagues over the years. 

“Talk about a great way to educate influential people about MTM and what pharmacists are capable of,” he told Today. “A House member told me the other day that they were happy I got re-elected because there needs to be a pharmacist around.”

Forbes has owned Medicap Pharmacy in Des Moines since 1980, and continues to work part-time when the state legislature is in session. He said he’s able to educate fellow legislators on much more than medications, too. He’s the go-to person for many health policy issues.

“Knowing the interworking of the health care system is important,” Georgia state Rep. Buddy Harden (R-148), BSPharm, told Today. Harden has been a legislator in Georgia since 2008 and before that owned two independent pharmacies and also served as CEO of the Georgia Pharmacy Association.

Like many pharmacists in state legislatures, Harden serves on his Health & Human Services Committee in the Georgia House of Representatives. 

Addressing pharmacy issues

California state Sen. Jeff Stone (R-28), PharmD, a newly elected candidate, expects to serve on his Senate Health Committee.

Stone is the first pharmacist in more than 3 decades to be elected to the California State Legislature. He’s owned six independent pharmacies during his 20-year career and currently operates Innovative Compounding Pharmacy in Murrieta, CA. 

Stone said he plans to address several issues related to pharmacy, too, including making sure pharmacists have appropriate compensation; expanding professional opportunities for pharmacists; and reforming PBMs.

Harden has also worked to push through PBM reform in the Georgia legislature. This year, he will try to pass a bill that will allow pharmacists in the state to administer all immunizations—not just the influenza vaccine. 

Should more pharmacists enter politics?

“Pharmacists make great policy makers,” former Texas state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-26), BSPharm, told Today. “I wish more health care professionals in general would join city council and government.”

Van de Putte credits her skill set in listening—gained as a pharmacist—with her ability to be an effective legislator. She still practices part-time at Davila Pharmacy in San Antonio’s west side. 

After losing the race for lieutenant governor in November 2014, Van de Putte announced she will be running for mayor of San Antonio and has given up her Senate seat. 

She has had a long 24-year career in the Texas legislature, and was encouraged by the people in her community to run. 

“Pharmacists are trusted people, and we can help bring back that level of trust and civility that the public has grown skeptical of in politics,” she said.