Recently enrolled law student Julie Slama, 22, was appointed to the Nebraska Legislature on Thursday by Republican Governor Pete Ricketts.
A seat in the state’s unicameral Legislature became vacant when Senator Dan Watermeier of Legislative District 1 won election to the Public Service Board in November. Slama was selected from a crowded field of nine other applicants for the position, including at least two county-level elected officials.
According to a press release issued by the governor’s office, Slama has been working as Ricketts’ campaign press secretary since her graduation from Yale earlier this year. Despite the impressive-sounding title, News Growl has been unable to find any additional evidence that Slama ever worked on Rickett’s campaign.
Who is Julie Slama?
For an incoming State Senator, there is very little information available online about Julie Slama – either about her life or her political beliefs. This is party because (unusually for a press secretary) she deleted her @JulieSlama1 Twitter account sometime in 2017.
We do know Slama is from the tiny town of Peru, Nebraska (described by her variously as having no stoplights or just one). She became the first student from Auburn High School to attend an Ivy League institution in 2014 when she was accepted to Yale. While in New Haven, she studied political science, was operations director of Yale Daily News (during which time she wrote a single article) and spent a semester abroad in London.
After finishing at Yale in May, she has enrolled at the University of Nebraska Law School in Lincoln. As recently as September she described herself as a “broke 20-something” with plans to go travelling in Europe.
Strangely, Slama has listed nowhere online her role as Press Secretary during Governor Ricketts’ recent reelection campaign. She does not include it on her LinkedIn profile for example (although she does list her time as an intern with US Senator Deb Fisher in 2015).
Equally strange, Slama’s name does not appear anywhere on the Ricketts’ campaign website, petericketts.com. On a page with details for a September 2018 campaign event, which includes contact details of two other campaign officials, neither Slama’s name nor her email address is listed.
News Growl has attempted to contact Slama via the Ricketts campaign and the Governor’s office for an explanation but as of publication has received no reply.
What does Julie Slama stand for?
One possible explanation for Ricketts’ decision to pass over more experienced appointees in favor of Slama could be that he hopes she will tow the party line – a quality the Governor has previously placed a premium on. The recent press release certainly makes it seem this may be the case.
“Julie will push for property tax relief, help create policy that supports strong families, and work to grow agriculture,” Ricketts said.
In the next paragraph, Slama parroted back a nearly identical message: “I look forward to working to cut property taxes, protecting our pro-life values, and creating more opportunities for our farm families.”
Ricketts should not be too complacent, however, as Slama does have a history of criticising prominent Republicans.
Before she deleted her Twitter account in 2017 the Internet Archive catalogued twelve of her tweets, including one from August 10th 2017 which said, “Isn’t it a terrifying thought that Trump has the nuke codes? Imagine if Republicans had considered this in the primaries.”
Slama has also publicly defended the reputation of a Democratic politician (albeit one from the distant past): former Vice President and fellow Yale alumnus John C. Calhoun.
After serving for two terms as Vice-President under John Quincy Adams, Calhoun was elected to the US Senate in 1832 where he became famous as a pro-slavery ideologue. A out-and-out white supremacist, Calhoun not only owned slaves but, unlike other Senators who thought it was a necessary evil, described the institution as a “positive good” for the country.
Until 2017 the Yale campus included a residential college named in honor of Calhoun. Speaking to Campus Reform in 2015, Slama argued against removing Calhoun’s name from the college.
“Yes, he supported slavery, yet many of our founding fathers did, as well,” she explained. “The man graduated from Yale and has a list of achievements longer than many of the other residential college namesakes.”
Why is the appointment of Julie Slama important?
Thanks in part to its unique one-chamber system, the 49 Nebraska State Senators make up the smallest state legislature in the country. With so few legislators to fill the ranks of its committees, the chance that Slama could end up with an important assignment (or two) is good. Having just one chamber also means that until her seat comes up for election in 2020, residents of LD1 will have no elected representation in Lincoln.
The pressure being placed on the recent college graduate is potentially enormous.
She will be splitting her time between learning about the law at the University of Nebraska and making the law at the Capitol (conveniently located just four miles apart). She will also be trying to balance the needs of her constituents against those of Nebraska GOP leadership without a democratic mandate. It is a problem other Ricketts appointees have struggled with: of his three previous appointments only one has managed to win back their seat in an election.
If the list of other applicants for the Senate appointment is anything to go by, Slama may indeed face tough competition in 2020 if she decides to run.
Among the nine other appointment-hopefuls were Pawnee County commissioner Dennis Schaart, former Richardson County commissioner Gayle Swisegood (who also served as president of the Nebraska Association of County Officials), criminal defense attorney and Nemaha County public defender Keith Kollasch, and former Nebraska Realtors Association president and community activist Janet Palmtag.
Governor Ricketts’ office, his campaign, and incoming-Senator Julie Slama were all invited to contribute to this article.