Jenean Hampton’s tenure as lieutenant governor was on track to be one of the shortest, least-interesting footnotes in Kentucky political history. For three years she seemed like little more than an extension of Gov. Matt Bevin’s Twitter feed. Yet, with a single tweet about “dark forces” she may become one of the more consequential lieutenant governors in Kentucky history — exposing Bevin’s maniacal, political pettiness, ripping apart the Republican and Tea Party alliance and creating enough bad news to at least threaten Bevin’s bid for reelection.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell may be sucked into this vortex, too, as one of her aides claimed (offering no proof, mind you) that he was behind Hampton’s removal from Bevin’s reelection ticket.
After Bevin dumped Hampton, her chief of staff was fired, allegedly at his direction. Then, her deputy chief of staff was fired, provoking her to tweet: “Calling prayer warriors. Yesterday, person[s] unknown initiated unauthorized personnel action ending employment of my talented, stellar Deputy Chief Adrienne Southworth, against my wishes. Pray for me as I battle dark forces.”
Unclear is whether any of those actions were legal or just purely craven, spiteful and political on Bevin’s part.
One thing is certain: Hampton has brought a spotlight onto the lieutenant governor’s office to expose how utterly pointless the position is. At $117,000 per year, the Commonwealth should get more than just a figurehead, or an in-case-of-emergency governor, should the governor resign, be removed or die.
A constitutional officer needs to be empowered with actual powers and authorities. If nothing else, they should preside over the state Senate to break tie votes, like the vice president does in U.S. Senate. Otherwise, they’re nothing more than a high-paid political appointee.
Since a 1992 amendment to the state Constitution, the lieutenant governor has had just two official jobs: sit on state boards with other appointees of the governor and be next in the line. More responsibilities would have to be prescribed by new law or by direction of the governor.
Kentucky is too poor to pay someone that much unless they have real duties. If all we need is a second in the line of succession, add that to the responsibilities of attorney general, secretary of state or another elected office.
In the last legislative session, Republican state Sen. Stephen Meredith filed a constitutional amendment to do just this: eliminate the position and place the Senate president next in line for governor. The proposal died, but Meredith said he plans to bring it up next year.
If anything is important about lieutenant governorship, it is that it is a political position. Gubernatorial candidates pick their running mates based on how that person will appeal to voters. It allows them to appeal to certain areas of the state and foster diversity.
Kentucky doesn’t even do this right.
Since 1995, gubernatorial candidates have had to pick their lieutenant governors before the primary. Candidates for president choose running mates after the primary.
This may seem inconsequential, but this year, it is not.
If Democratic nominee Andy Beshear could select his primary opponent Rocky Adkins as his running mate, he could very well swing the election.
This is not a knock against Beshear’s running mate, Jacquelin Coleman. But it is impossible to ignore Adkins’ political strength across the state, outside of the cities, especially. He is well known and respected in the state legislature and, certainly, in Eastern Kentucky, given his primary showing there. What’s more, if you overlay the results of the Democratic primary with that of the Republican primary, it’s apparent that the regions where Bevin is weakest (losing there to his Republican challenger) is where Adkins is strongest.
Beshear and Coleman may or may not be the best ticket to beat Bevin (and his new running mate), but I would hate to wake up and wonder what difference Adkins could have made if Bevin narrowly wins reelection.
Yet, Bevin seems adept at sinking his own chances. And, he now faces the wrath of Hampton’s “prayer warriors” as they battle the “dark forces” that are within Bevin.
For that, thank you, Jenean! •