Louisvillians Haven’t Had Much Luck Running for Kentucky Governor

Former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson announced Tuesday that he won’t run for governor in 2015. Instead, he wants to focus on education issues.

Abramson, Kentucky’s lieutenant governor since 2011, very well could’ve ended up succeeding Gov. Steve Beshear, his longtime ally, political observers say.

But he would’ve have to overcome an obstacle: His Louisville roots.

A Louisvillian hasn’t been elected Kentucky’s governor since 1951—and even that has a caveat.

This history of exclusion doesn’t mean that an Abramson run would have been pointless, said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky. In fact, Cross said he’d be a “formidable candidate.”

But “there is still a residual resentment or suspicion or dislike of Louisville in some of the more rural areas of the state,” Cross said before Abramson’s official announcement Tuesday.

“That has greatly diminished and I don’t think being from Louisville is a disqualification. But when you are both a Louisvillian and Jewish and have this strong identity with this city—you just look and act urban—then it becomes a bigger factor,” Cross added.

The issue also has political roots, said Dewey Clayton, a political science professor at the University of Louisville.

“A traditional Democrat in Kentucky tends to be much more conservative than the Democratic Party on the national level and probably somewhat more conservative than a lot of the Democrats in Louisville proper,” Clayton said.

Cross said that the difficulties for a Louisvillian reaching the governor’s office are not as imposing as they once were.

And it’s not a moot point—Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat, has said he’s considering running for governor in 2015. He’s a Louisvillian. And former Louisville mayoral candidate Hal Heiner is considering a run on the Republican side.

Clayton noted that Abramson’s presence in a Democratic primary would have complicated Conway’s prospects (and vice versa). 

It seems there can be a Louisvillian governor, perhaps, but not two in the same primary. 

Oh, and the last Louisvillian elected governor was Lawrence Wetherby, noted Cross, a longtime political observer and former Courier-Journal writer.

Now, Wetherby ran in ’51 as an incumbent—he succeeded to governor after his predecessor resigned, Cross said.

For a Louisvillian elected outright to the governorship, you have to go back to 1907—Augustus Willson, Cross said.

Joseph Lord

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.

@joseph_Lord

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