Pharmacists in politics

State legislators with pharmacy backgrounds shape health care policy

Although no pharmacists are in Congress, 46 pharmacists currently serve in state legislatures across the country. The November elections may bring as many as 12 new pharmacists to their state legislature; 6 pharmacists are running in 4 of the 25 states now without pharmacist legislators.

Of those pharmacists now in office, some had served in government or leadership positions related to pharmacy before their election—state boards of pharmacy, various pharmacy-related committees, and similar groups. Others, however, were new to leadership when elected. A majority, 36, are Republicans; 10 are Democrats.

These state legislators’ pharmacy background gives them insight into health care issues that their colleagues value. As a result, they’re called on to act as resources on a wide variety of health subjects, particularly pharmacy, and medication-related topics for others in their legislature and throughout government.

The National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations (NASPA) maintains a complete list of pharmacists in state legislatures (see Table 1) and pharmacists running for their state legislature (see Table 2). Information was updated for Pharmacy Today with the assistance of NASPA intern Natalie Nguyen.

“NASPA tracks and maintains key state-by-state data on issues of critical importance to the profession,” said Rebecca P. Snead, BSPharm, NASPA Executive Vice President and CEO. “One of the priorities for state pharmacy associations is to cultivate pharmacists’ political leadership.”

Here’s a look at five pharmacists serving in their state legislatures.

Washington State: Sen. Linda Evans Parlette

“My colleagues turn to me on most issues related to pharmacies and drugs,” said Washington state Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, BSPharm (R-12).

Parlette made the decision to become a pharmacist at 17. “I wanted a degree that was an insurance policy—a degree that would allow me to get a job wherever and support myself,” she said. Paying for college with money from a high-school job as a waitress, she graduated from Washington State University in 1968, one of 5 or 6 women in a class of 45. After college, she practiced as a staff pharmacist. Eventually, she specialized in relief pharmacy, filling in for independent pharmacy owners as needed. Today, she is a relief pharmacist at Wenatchee Clinic Pharmacy in Wenatchee, WA.

Parlette first ran for office in 1996, and won both the primary and the general election. She has run unopposed in each election since. As a state senator, she has applied her pharmacy knowledge to areas such as scope-of-practice issues, marijuana issues, and the state Prescription Monitoring Program. She also works with student pharmacists—meeting with them, encouraging them to speak out on policy, and allowing them to shadow her in the Senate.

The lessons Parlette learned waiting tables in high school have carried over into both her career in pharmacy and her career in politics. “Learning customer service skills was transferrable into my pharmacy practice and well as my legislative career,” she said. “It is all about serving others—whether they are hungry, not feeling well, or need legislative assistance.”

Texas: Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

The ability to listen is the top quality that pharmacists bring to politics, according to Texas state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, BSPharm (D-26). “You listen to your patients,” she said. “A lot of it is imparting your knowledge and making sure that there’s strong communication, but what I do is listen. And that’s what policy makers need—to first of all listen.”

After listening comes being nonjudgmental, according to Van de Putte. “I think that inherent perspective as a pharmacist is so much needed in the public policy arena,” she said. “To not blame people because they’re poor. To not place blame. To just take the situation as it is, and say, OK, let’s see what we can do to make it better.”

In 2000, Van de Putte was presented with APhA’s Hubert H. Humphrey Award, named for the noted pharmacist and former U.S. Vice President and established to recognize APhA members who have made major contributions in government and legislative service at the local, state, or national level. She received the award for legislative accomplishments including her sponsorship in 1995 of S.B. 601, which established the Texas Patient’s Bill of Rights that has become a national model, and in 1999 of S.B. 1224, which created the Texas Children’s Health Insurance Plan that now covers more than 500,000 previously uninsured children.

After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1979, Van de Putte worked in settings including hospital, community, institutional, and nursing-home consulting, and owned Loma Park Pharmacy for 12 years. She was first elected to the state legislature in 1990. Today, she practices part-time in Davila Pharmacy in the heart of San Antonio’s west side, in the barrio.

Louisiana: Sen. Fred Mills Jr.

Louisiana state Sen. Fred Mills Jr., BSPharm, (R-22) is a 1976 graduate of Northeast Louisiana University School  of Pharmacy. He is a community pharmacist and owns Mills’ Cashway Pharmacy in Parks, LA.

Mills spent 4 years as the Executive Director for the Louisiana Board of Pharmacy and served on a number of Medicaid drug-utilization review committees. In 2007, he was elected to Louisiana’s House of Representatives. He kept his position there until 2011, when he successfully ran for a seat in Louisiana’s Senate.

As a state legislator, Mills has passed bills addressing pharmacist and patient issues such as accessibility, practice standards, and safety issues. By working with state, local, and government bodies, he has tried to promote the individual concerns of the two groups, as well as the ones they share. He credits his pharmacy experience with helping him to identify the challenges and opportunities that pharmacists face.

“There are so many factions that are fighting against our cause,” said Mills, the opening speaker at last year’s Political Leadership Breakfast during the 2012 APhA Annual Meeting & Exposition in New Orleans. “Without the voice and passion of our pharmacists, our future will be threatened.”

Kansas: Sen. Vicki Schmidt

Kansas State Sen. Vicki Schmidt, BSPharm, (R-20) graduated from the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy in 1978. She spent time working in hospital pharmacy, then community pharmacy, followed by nursing home consultant pharmacy. She has also served on the Kansas State Board of Pharmacy, and the Executive Committee of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. She now practices as a relief pharmacist at Walgreens.

Schmidt was elected to the Kansas Senate in 2005, and, in 2008, her fellow senators chose her as Assistant Majority Leader. She also serves as Chair of the Public Health and Welfare Committee.

As a pharmacist and legislator, Schmidt understands the value of being part of APhA. “The information that they provide is very important to me,” she said. In 2007, she received APhA’s Hubert H. Humphrey Award. Her legislative accomplishments in 2006 included sponsorship of H.B. 2830, which amended the pharmacy law with regard to pharmacy technicians, and H.B. 2831, which authorized pharmacists to administer vaccinations.

Practicing at Walgreens, Schmidt is sometimes noticed by patients who know she is not the regular pharmacist but who still recognize her face from somewhere. Once, she was uncomfortable with telling them she was a senator, but now, she is used to it.

“They usually say, ‘Well, I’m glad you have a real job,’” Schmidt said. “Very rarely do they ask me political questions.”

Utah: Rep. Evan J. Vickers

Utah State Rep. Evan J. Vickers, BSPharm, (R-72) graduated from the University of Utah in 1977. He worked at an independent pharmacy in Beaver, UT, for 3 years, then moved to Cedar City, UT, and practiced for the Skaggs pharmacy chain, where he became pharmacy manager. In 1996, he purchased Bulloch Drug on Cedar City’s Main Street; in 2003, he opened a second store, Township Pharmacy, near the local hospital.

Vickers was elected to the Utah House of Representatives in 2008, and this year is running for a seat in the Utah State Senate. For him, pharmacy-related issues are a priority, and he is particularly concerned about proposed pharmacy safety regulations being “too onerous to administer” for pharmacists. He has supported pharmacy audit reform laws in his state, and worked for passage of legislation increasing pharmacy benefit manager transparency. He is currently working on a physician dispensing law and some language to protect compounding pharmacists, physicians, and patients in his state.

Political involvement: Why does it matter?

Being politically aware and involved is vital, according to Vickers. “When I speak in front of a lot of pharmacy groups, I tell them, ‘It’s real simple. If you don’t want to be involved in politics, you’d better get out of pharmacy, because politics has become an integral part of what we do,’” he said.

“Why would you not want to at least know and be aware of what’s happening in your practice setting and reimbursement?” asked Van de Putte.

APhA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Brian Gallagher, BSPharm, JD, a former West Virginia legislator, agreed with this theme.

“A lot of people think that legislators are ‘stupid’ and so they pass laws that are unworkable. Well, legislators don’t sit down and decide to torture pharmacists,” Gallagher said. “They identify problems and think of possible solutions for them. The possible solutions can be either good for pharmacists or bad for pharmacists. It is the job of pharmacists to advocate for themselves and explain the consequences before the law is passed to make sure the good-for-pharmacists solution is the one chosen.”

To help advocate for the profession, Van de Putte added that pharmacists should join their pharmacy organization. “Pharmacists don’t have the time or energy or the expertise to figure out everything that’s happening in Washington, DC, and at the state capital that affects them,” she said. “There’s strength in numbers.”

“We’ve become almost the most highly regulated profession in the country and it’s going to continue to go that direction,” Vickers said. “If we want to preserve our profession, preserve our ability and viability, we’ve just got to stay involved.”

Table 1. Pharmacists elected to state legislatures

Name Title State District Party
Elaine Beech Representative Alabama 65 D
Ronald Johnson Representative Alabama 33 R
Billy Beasley Senator Alabama 28 D
Percy Malone Senator Arkansas 26 D
Bruce L. Broadricka Representative Georgia 4 R
Buddy Harden Representative Georgia 147 R
Butch Parrish Representative Georgia 156 R
Ron Stephens Representative Georgia 164 R
Buddy Carter Senator Georgia 1 R
Susan B. Chew Representative Idaho 17 D
Steve Davisson Representative Indiana 73 R
Ron Grooms Senator Indiana 46 R
Don Hill Representative Kansas 60 R
Vicki Schmidt Senator Kansas 20 R
H. Bernard LeBas Representative Louisiana 38 R
Ronnie Johns Senator Louisiana 27 R
Fred H. Mills Jr. Senator Louisiana 22 R
Robert W. Nuttingb Representative Maine 78 R
Donald B. Elliott Delegate Maryland 4B R
Theodore J. Sophocleus Delegate Maryland 32 D
H. Nolan Mettetal Representative Mississippi 10 R
Eugene Forrest Hamilton Representative Mississippi 6 R
Bobby B. Howell Representative Mississippi 46 R
John Read Representative Mississippi 112 R
David Sater Representative Missouri 68 R
Keith Frederick Representative Missouri 149 R
Ross N. Terrio Representative New Hampshire 14 R
Frank G. Case Representative New Hampshire 1 R
Daniel Burling Assemblyman New York 147 R
Tom Murry Representative North Carolina 41 R
Dave Burke Senator Ohio 26 R
David Derby Representative Oklahoma 74 R
Mitch Greenlick Representative Oregon 33 D
L. Kit Spires Representative South Carolina 96 R
Kevin L. Bryant Senator South Carolina 3 R
Ronnie W. Cromer Senator South Carolina 18 R
David Shepard Representative Tennessee 69 D
Randy McNally Senator Tennessee 5 R
Charles J. Schwertner Representative Texas 20 R
Charles Hopson Representative Texas 11 D
Leticia Van de Putte Senator Texas 26 D
Evan J. Vickers Representative Utah 72 R
M. Keith Hodges Delegate Virginia 98 R
Chris Jones Delegate Virginia 76 R
Linda Evans Parlette Senator Washington 12 R
Don Perdue Delegate West Virginia 17 D

a Elected in 2012; officially takes office January 2013.
b Speaker of the House
Source: National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations. Updated August 21, 2012.

Table 2. Pharmacists running in 2012 for state legislatures

Name Campaign State District Party
Fred Harris House of Representatives Arkansas 18 D
John Forbes House of Representatives Iowa 40 D
Bob Greenwood House of Representatives Iowa 60 D
Mike Seiber House of Representatives Kentucky 10 D
Kelly Whitaker House of Representatives Kentucky 2 D
Lynn Morris House of Representatives Missouri 140 R
Howard Anderson Senate North Dakota 8 R
John McDonald State Assembly New York 108 D
Tim McMenamin House of Representatives Oregon 41 R
Rob Standridge Senate Oklahoma 15 R
Brian Kaatz Senate South Dakota 14 D
Ferrell Haile Senate Tennessee 18 R


Source: National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations. Updated August 21, 2012.

Pharmacy Today Senior Assistant Editor Diana Yap (left) and Corrie Whitmer (R), APhA's 2012 Intern in Political Journalism, attended this year's Institute of Political Journalism (IPJ) Journalism Awards Ceremony on July 18 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Whitmer, now a junior at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Indiana, PA, was at APhA headquarters for 8 weeks. Under the IPJ program sponsored by the Fund for American Studies, she wrote articles for APhA publications, including Today and, assisted with research, participated in staff meetings and discussions, and interfaced with staff in Government Affairs and other APhA departments. A native of Pennsylvania, Whitmer is majoring in journalism.