By John David Dyche
The next lieutenant governor of Kentucky will be a woman. For the first time in the state’s history both major parties have a female in the second spot and so does the independent slate.
Jenean Hampton is on the Republican ticket with gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin. State representative Sannie Overly is on the Democratic ticket with Jack Conway. Independent Heather Curtis is running with her husband, Drew.
From a purely gender perspective this is nothing revolutionary. Kentucky has had a woman as governor, Martha Layne Collins, who previously served as lieutenant governor.
The commonwealth first elected a female lieutenant governor, Thelma Stovall, in 1975. Stovall lost a bid for her party’s nomination for governor in 1979.
Kentucky has a woman, the highly respected Crit Luallen, in the lieutenant governor’s office now. People in both parties lament that Luallen opted against running for governor.
Few were surprised when Luallen ceded the field to Conway, her protege from their time together in Paul Patton’s administration. The more folks see of and hear from the gubernatorial contenders, however, the more they long for Luallen.
Hampton’s election would be a milestone. Kentucky has never elected an African-American, much less an African-American female, to statewide office.
Her background and experience are extremely impressive. Born and raised in inner-city Detroit, Hampton worked in the automotive industry before joining the Air Force as a computer systems officer. She was deployed to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm.
Hampton then began a 19-year career in industry, rising to a plant manager position and earning an MBA degree along the way. After several civic activities she emerged on the political scene in Bowling Green by running a Tea Party Republican campaign for the state House of Representatives in 2014.
Her loss to former Speaker of the House Jody Richards nonetheless won her attention and praise. By picking her, Bevin brought many kinds of balance to his ticket and also showed some courage since there are regrettably still some racists in the state who won’t vote for an African-American.
Hampton has acquitted herself well so far. She is a praiseworthy Kentucky political pioneer regardless of who wins.
Overly, a Bourbon County civil engineer and attorney, has been on the fast track since winning a special election to the state House of Representatives in 2008. She became the first female member of leadership in that body when she was elected Democratic caucus chair in 2013.
Earlier this year Overly made news by seeking to seal her deposition in the sex harassment case against her former Democratic colleague John Arnold. That case recently settled, and Kentucky’s innocent taxpayers will fork over $400,000 that could have been put to a lot of other good uses.
The settlement does not answer the questions of what Democratic state House leaders knew about Arnold’s conduct and when they knew it. Their committee contributed big money to his 2012 campaign, helping him win by five votes.
According to WFPL News, one Democratic representative, Tom Riner, claimed others in his party told him to keep quiet about the sex harassment and assault allegations against Arnold in order to protect the party’s majority. Riner also made a floor speech referring to a culture of sexism and intimidation in the Democratic-controlled state House.
Overly has not been publicly pressed on any of these issues in the campaign. Some media and voters seem resigned to the reality that this is just how the Democrats who have so long dominated the chamber roll.
Articulate, smart, and projecting an image of leadership, Overly has a bright political future regardless of who wins. More than a few Democrats would be happy to flip that ticket.
The Curtis couple comprises Kentucky’s first ever husband-wife gubernatorial slate. Heather, a former child protection worker with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, has a master’s degree in counseling psychology.
She is chief operating officer of the family’s digital media company, Fark, Inc. They say they are already a proven team, which is good since they stand virtually no chance of winning.
The lieutenant governor has no real constitutional responsibilities other than relieving the governor if he or she dies, is unable to serve, or otherwise vacates the office. The lieutenant governor’s political power, if any, is largely determined by the governor.
In recent years the lieutenant governorship has been something of a carousel as well. The last Republican tandem, Ernie Fletcher and Steve Pence, feuded, and Fletcher chose another running mate for his 2007 reelection bid.
Current Democratic governor Steve Beshear also replaced his first lieutenant governor, Dan Mongiardo, upon seeking reelection in 2011. Mongiardo’s successor, former Louisville mayor Jerry Abramson, resigned to take a sinecure in the Obama White House, and was replaced by Luallen.
Lieutenant governors, like vice-presidents, are not that important … until they are. So pay attention to these women, one of whom will soon be a proverbial heartbeat away from the governorship.
(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.)
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