Gov. Steve Beshear says his search for a new lieutenant governor started and ended with one candidate after Jerry Abramson got the call to serve in the White House.
Kentucky’s next lieutenant governor, Crit Luallen, has near-bulletproof bonafides among Democrats and Republicans in the state.
Luallen is the descendent of two Kentucky governors, a former state auditor responsible for uncovering millions of dollars in fraud—sending up a then-unheard-of 120 cases to law enforcement—and a non-partisan figure whose work resulted in the prosecution of 34 public officials, many from her own party.
Besides her role as an elected Kentucky official, Luallen also has experience in the bureaucratic machinations of Kentucky state government, according to her biography from the state auditor’s office. She served seven years under former Democratic Gov. Paul Patton as executive cabinet secretary, overseeing the other cabinets and acting a go-between for the cabinet secretaries and the governor.
In an interview Friday, Patton said Beshear has found a resource in Luallen that will serve him in his relationship with the Frankfort legislature.
He called her “one of the most capable administrators that I have ever worked with.”
“Crit will be a great asset to him particularly in relationships with the legislature,” Patton said. “Crit has tremendous respect in Frankfort for her ability and honesty, so she is going to be taken seriously by the members of the legislature and other people in Frankfort.”
State Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican of Manchester, agrees with Patton.
When Stivers first came to the legislature 18 years ago, he worked with Luallen in her capacity as cabinet secretary for Patton.
“I’ve always had a very good relationship and I think that’s the way she been perceived and been dealt with other legislators, both Democrats and Republicans—as just a straight shooter,” said Stivers, the leading Republican in state government.
“It may not be what you want to hear but it is what it is. And I think that’s the way people will take her. And when you bring credibility to the table that’s always a valued commodity.”
Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has also worked with Luallen during his statehouse tenure. He echoed Stiver’s sentiments in a release.
“She will certainly bring a wealth of information to the administration,” said Stumbo. “She and I have always worked well together, professionally and personally.”
Luallen, 62, is a Frankfort native and graduate of Centre College. She was first elected auditor in 2003 and served two terms.
She has a history of sticking to her guns. She started her political career by working in the mailroom for former Gov. Wendell Ford in 1974, and worked her way up to executive cabinet secretary where she wrangled a budget negotiation in 2000 with the famously truculent David Williams She’s worked for every living Kentucky governor.
Is it any wonder that the press has asked her, at every recent public appearance, whether she’ll be in a 2015 run for governor?
Even her would-be Democratic opponent, current Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, who she’s endorsed, has called her “the gold standard for public service.” Democrat and current Auditor Adam Edelen described her as “Kentucky’s greatest civil servant.”
But “No,” has been Luallen’s answer to the questions about a gubernatorial run, at every turn. Bouts in 2004 and 2005 with cancer, she’s said previously, have left her and her husband Lynn thankful for their health, and so far unwilling to commit to the 10 year hike toward the Governor’s Mansion. At the Governor’s announcement Thursday, Luallen spoke only briefly. And in her modest speech, said called the appointment “a high honor.”
“Serving as lieutenant governor gives me the opportunity to continue to serve Kentucky and offer my experience and perspective to Gov. Beshear,” she said.
She officially becomes Kentucky’s lieutenant governor on Thursday afternoon. Luallen’s public swearing-in will take place in the Capitol Rotunda at 2:30 p.m. Friday.