Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

January 19, 2011

Kentucky settles into primary season

By Ronnie Ellis - CNHI News Service
CNHI

Jan. 19, 2011 —     FRANKFORT — After a week of frenzy in the state Senate and the resignation of Secretary of State Trey Grayson, lawmakers went home and things calmed down just a bit. Grayson resigned to become Director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard, his alma mater. It’s hard to blame him – but some Republicans do. For them, especially conservative Republicans from rural Kentucky, it confirmed their suspicions that Grayson isn’t conservative enough for their tastes. And they aren’t happy a rare, two-time Republican statewide winner relinquished his office so Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear could appoint a successor.

    Beshear’s appointment mystified some. Bowling Green Mayor Elaine Walker isn’t that well known, she’s President of the Kentucky League of Cities and was on its executive board at the time that board was unaware of how much it was paying Director Sylvia Lovely and her staff. Rumor has it that Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Lexington attorney and daughter of former Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan, may run for Secretary of State. Lundergan and Beshear don’t care much for each other. If Grimes runs, it’s not hard to anticipate some of the ads her campaign might air against Walker.

    Beshear put Walker in a tough spot, even if he and she don’t seem to realize it. Walker has four months to learn a new office and oversee a primary election while raising money and running her own campaign.

    Grayson offered Beshear an alternative – long-time SOS employee Mary Sue Helm, a Democrat respected by both parties who knows the job and had no desire to run for it. Beshear didn’t do himself any favors with reporters by denying Grayson’s counsel – when reporters already knew it.

    Mystery also surrounded the Attorney General’s office. Still more key aides announced they’re leaving Jack Conway’s staff, furthering speculation he might not seek re-election, despite his public profession he will. Then former Supreme Court Justice Joseph Lambert announced he won’t, after all, run for Attorney General in the Republican primary. He blamed a decision by current Chief Justice John Minton to deny Lambert’s request for a leave of absence from the senior status judge program without which Lambert’s generous retirement benefits would be at risk.

    But there was likely another factor. Lambert would have faced Hopkins County Attorney Todd P’Pool who has already raised $250,000. More importantly perhaps, P’Pool’s campaign is being run by Larry Cox, the former state director for Sen. Mitch McConnell. McConnell, after primary missteps in the 2007 gubernatorial primary and the 2010 senate primary, has vowed to stay out of this year’s. But it’s hard to imagine Cox agreeing to manage P’Pool’s campaign without the blessing and encouragement of McConnell.

    Largely unnoticed, the OTHER David Williams filed to run in the Democratic primary for Commissioner of Agriculture. Williams, from Glasgow (not Republican David Williams, the Senate President who’s running for governor), is a perennial candidate given to outrageous claims of political power and conspiracy who speaks with the aid of a voice machine because of throat surgery. Those who noticed he filed may have laughed. But they should remember Williams was the 2007 Democratic nominee for the same office, garnering more votes in the primary than anyone but Conway. This year, Richie Farmer is running for Lieutenant Governor, not Agriculture Commissioner.

    Williams told me a few months ago he considered running for governor. Seems he has a friend named Pete Farmer who might agree to form a Williams-Farmer gubernatorial ticket. Now that would have been genuine cause for laughter.

    Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. He may be contacted by email at rellis@cnhi.com.