Elizabethtown native Holly Harris, president and executive director of Justice Action Network, has been named one of the “most powerful women” in Washington, D.C., as part of a list published by Washingtonian magazine.
The list highlights D.C.’s most influential women in business, law, government, medicine, media, nonprofits and the arts. Others listed include Vice President Kamala Harris, Supreme Court Justices Coney Barret and Sonia Sotomayor.
“It seems absurd to me that I would be on a list with these women,” Harris said in an interview Friday.
Harris, who began her professional career as a television news reporter in Louisville, later earned a law degree and worked in various capacities for Republican elected officials.
She worked on James Comer’s gubernatorial campaign in 2015. She said that difficult experience led her to want to reset things and work on problems pertaining to criminal justice. She has been part of the Justice Action Network, a bipartisan lobbying effort, for almost six years.
Harris said effort started small, but built slowly over the years. She said learning from her mother and her friends led her to know how to treat people she works with.
After living in Washington, D.C., for about 2½ years, she has returned to Kentucky and now makes her home in Lexington.
The organization has helped pass a few different criminal justice reform bills including the First Step Act which was signed by former President Donald Trump in 2018.
Harris said the organization is mostly focused on reducing incarceration, improving re-entry into society after prison and over criminalization. She said there’s also collaboration with law enforcement on reforms as well.
Right now, Harris said she’s currently working on legislation called the EQUAL Act to eliminate the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.
“I think it’s one of the worst vestiges of racial injustice in America’s drug policy,” Harris said.
Harris said her goal with the organization is to talk about broad issues and relate to the everyday struggles of those across the country, including places like rural Kentucky.
Despite the long hours and hard work, Harris said ultimately she feels the organization has created something inspiring through the “old-fashioned way” of building relationships.
“You can create a movement that is … broad, sustainable and successful. And that’s really been our goal,” she said.
Because of her family and support system back in Hardin County, Harris also said she felt that even if she failed, she’d be able to come back and be embraced no matter what happened.
Thanks to the Washingtonian list, she said she hopes she can send a message to those who are also struggling to find a path in life and to learn from failure.
“You can have … tremendous struggles in your life, and … you can still make your life anything you want it to be,” she said.