Jerry Abramson is abandoning the insignificant and obscure office to which he was elected -- lieutenant governor of Kentucky – for an even more insignificant and obscure office in the White House -- deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs.
The prospect of living the high life in Washington on the taxpayer dime with no real responsibilities as the Obama administration crumbles to a welcome conclusion evidently proved irresistible to the five-term former mayor of Louisville. He is a perfect fit for the Obama bureaucracy.
Multiple scandals marked Abramson's tenure as mayor. His appointed management of the Metropolitan Sewer District grossly abused the public trust. His self-dealing cronies in the Department of Neighborhoods fabricated invoices. His Department of Housing head pled guilty to official misconduct misdemeanors after allegations of using public money to pay her mother's mortgage.
These are just a few of the more egregious instances of malfeasance or mismanagement that marked the latter years of Louisville's so-called "mayor for life" (a moniker Abramson actually seemed to believe). One reason Louisville's current mayor, Greg Fischer, so easily won reelection last week was his success in cleaning up the many messes the high-handed Abramson left behind.
There is a nice irony in the fact that Crit Luallen will succeed Abramson as lieutenant governor. As state auditor, Luallen issued a scathing review of Louisville government under Abramson. It publicized scores of previously papered-over problems in the city's financial reporting and stewardship of federal funds.
Now, incredibly, but not surprisingly, the Obama administration has asked Abramson to apply his dubious administrative abilities on a national level. He will have to hurry if he hopes to replicate his local fiascos on a federal scale, but his boss, Obama's controversial consigliore Valerie Jarrett, will help him.
Beshear is definitely "trading up" by substituting Luallen for Abramson. The switch is not without some questions, however.
There is a legitimate dispute about whether the governor has the constitutional authority to appoint a replacement lieutenant governor. The state constitution is not quite clear on the point, but should be made so before real mischief causes a serious crisis for Kentucky sometime in the future.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the Congress must confirm a nominee to fill a vacancy in the office of vice president. Confirmation gives the people some say in the selection, albeit indirectly via their elected representatives in the legislative branch.
But as Beshear interprets his constitutional authority, the choice of a new lieutenant governor is his and his alone (just like the decision to expand Medicaid under Obamacare). If he dies in office or resigns he will have single-handedly chosen his successor (although the lieutenant governor does not actually become governor, but only exercises the governor's powers) with neither popular input directly from the people nor indirectly through their elected representatives.
Do not be surprised if someone goes to court to challenge Beshear's appointment of Luallen. State Senate President Robert Stivers, the next in line of constitutional authority to administer the government, has said it will not be him, however.
Putting aside constitutional questions, Luallen is very well-qualified for her new post. She can be a big help to Beshear in many ways.
But make no mistake: the absolute top political priority of the Beshear-Luallen administration during its brief remaining time will be getting his son, Andy, elected attorney general, and her protégé, Jack Conway, elected governor. The full power of the executive branch will be put to work to achieve these electoral ambitions.
The Beshear-Luallen combination represents the establishment Democrats forming a united front against further inroads by those whom they consider barbarian interlopers, like longtime Beshear rival Jerry Lundergan and his daughter and recently defeated U.S. Senate candidate, Alison Lundergan Grimes. It will be interesting to see if Democrats statewide acquiesce in this consolidation of power.
In years past, Democrats had hard fought primaries involving lots of candidates. Now, they may merely anoint their chosen candidates using principles of political primogeniture. These days it is Republicans who have a robust nominating process. This change is a sign of Democratic decline and Republican vitality.
There is still a chance of a Democratic ticket comprised of Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo for governor and Grimes for lieutenant governor. A contest pitting the colorful, powerful, populist plaintiffs' attorney Stumbo from Eastern Kentucky (via Lexington) against the colorless, powerless, and elitist plaintiffs' attorney Conway from Louisville would make for one fun Democratic primary!
Meanwhile, if you need any intergovernmental affairs directed or presidents assisted, Jerry Abramson is your man in the White House. His work for Obama there will accomplish at least as much as his tax reform commission did for Beshear here -- nothing.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.