NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A freshman Tennessee legislator credits her success in politics and business to the time she spent working at a restaurant chain known for buxom waitresses in tank tops and short shorts.
Republican state Rep. Julia Hurley, 29, won her November election by knocking off the Democratic incumbent in a conservative district west of Knoxville, but she says it was while working as a "Hooter's Girl" that she began honing her business sense and networking skills.
Hurley writes about it in the latest issue of the restaurant chain's Hooters magazine, and says opponents tried but failed to make her past employment and photos from her modeling career a campaign issue.
"I have taken quite a bit of flack from the public at large during my run for State House in Tennessee for being a Hooters Girl," she said. "But I know that without that time in my life I would not be as strong-willed and eager to become successful."
The link also became a direct benefit to her electoral bid when former regular customers made campaign contribution "without question or hesitation," she said.
The article appears in the magazine's "Orange Pride Spotlight," which features "the success stories of Hooters Girls both past and present." Much of the rest of the magazine is devoted to full-page photos of women posing in bikinis and Hooters uniforms.
Hurley now works as a consultant and entrepreneur. She is a Southern Baptist and a member of the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America.
Her House bid last year was her first run for public office, and she told The Knoxville News Sentinel during the race that her top issues included reducing illiteracy, creating jobs and filling empty retail space in her district. The General Assembly began its full schedule this week, and Hurley has not yet introduced any bills.
Hurley would only give a statement to The Associated Press and declined to answer specific questions about the article.
"I take the honor of serving in this state House more seriously than anything I have in my life," she said. "I identify with every woman who has overcome the odds to realize their dream. My past shapes who I am today."
In the magazine, she writes that her dream of running for office started at an early age.
"As I grew up, there were many factors that made me keep putting off being a representative of the people including the fact that I had a daughter at the young age of 15," she wrote.
Hurley said in the article that she first started working at a Hooters store in Alcoa as a way to help pay for college expenses at Maryville College, and later transferred to another store in Knoxville. She left to work for another restaurant and then a bank before becoming seriously ill and taking six months to recover.
A chance encounter with a former manager led to an offer to return to Hooters.
"I had gained quite a bit of weight by then, but he offered it to me anyway," she said. "He took me under his wing and within the year I had gotten back into physical shape and had become a trainer for that store."
Hurley said working at Hooters primed her for success.
"Hooters gave me the opportunity to belong to a group of women who had also struggled, or were struggling, and I was lucky to have managers that saw each girl's potential and coached us, protected us, and helped shape who we are today," she said.
Mike McNeil, vice president of marketing for Hooters of America LLC, said in a statement that many of the company's 300,000 former employees alumni are "are destined to do great things."
"There is nothing we like more than to hear from these alumni who talk about how working as a Hooters Girl provided them with the life skills and financial resources necessary to succeed," he said.
Republican colleagues in the House say Hurley's background isn't an issue.
"We are a citizen Legislature and we've all taken a different pathway in life to get here," House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart said.
Hurley's article says her Hooters career taught her how overcome obstacles on her way to the state Capitol. "If I could make it at Hooters, I could make it anywhere," she writes.
State Rep. Julie Hurley's legislative page: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/house/members/h32.html
Hooters Magazine: http://www.hootersmagazine.com/