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In D.C. visit, Ashley Judd talks about sex trafficking — and her political future

Ashley Judd with a group of girls at the Thistle Stop Café in Nashville. She visited the cafe during filming for the documentary “A Path Appears.” (Audrey Hall)

Ashley Judd is in Washington to talk about the new documentary “A Path Appears,” which explores oppression and exploitation of women around the globe. But, because we’re only a few miles from the Capitol, the first question has to be about politics — specifically whether the actress and activist, who seriously considered running against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his 2014 reelection bid, will seek public office again.

“For God to know and me to find out,” she said. Which is, of course, not a no. But there’s no way to do more reporting on an answer like that. Higher powers aren’t great at returning reporters’ calls.

It seems she wasn’t turned off by her foray into the political arena, even though things got ugly when a tape was leaked of McConnell aides considering attacking Judd’s mental health if she challenged the veteran senator. “I had an outstandingly positive experience,” she said. “The overwhelming encouragement was a hugely motivating factor for me.”

She still keeps letters from Kentuckians urging her to run in her dressing room, she said, and looks at them often.

For now, she’s content to spend time in Kentucky and Tennessee, working on both sides of the slash that separate the “actor/activist” moniker she usually wears. “For now, my job is to cultivate my mind, cultivate my soul — to suit up and show up,” she said. Her agent, she jokes, would also like it if she made a movie or two.

“Suiting up” on Tuesday night meant donning a silk dress and heels, perching at a table in a small room at the opulent Meridian International House, as she preps for a discussion of “A Path Appears” with Sheryl WuDunn (who co-wrote the book on which the documentary was based with Nicholas Kristof), director Maro Chermayeff, and Shana Goodwin, a former prostitute who now helps other women like her. Judd is one of the handful of Hollywood actresses, along with Malin Akerman, Mia Farrow, Jennifer Garner, Regina Hall, Blake Lively, Eva Longoria, and Alfre Woodard, who appear in the series.

Judd’s therapy dog Shug — who helps her in her treatment for depression — sniffs around her feet, and Judd sweeps him onto her lap as she answers questions.  

Later, she will tell the audience about her experience filming the documentary, exploring the sex trade in Nashville. She’ll talk candidly about her own experiences with sexual violence, which she detailed in her 2011 memoir.

But there’s one last question before the panel starts: What does she think of McConnell? There’s a long pause. “I would like to think that everyone who comes to Washington is well-intentioned, and one of my spiritual practices is to presume goodwill,” she said. “I don’t think the choices he makes are helpful. There are enormous unmet needs in Kentucky and in our nation. I believe he is a part of and an essential creator of a system that is preventing improvement.”

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