FRANKFORT — Once Democrat Andy Beshear announced he’ll run for governor in 2019, it didn’t take long for the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) to begin efforts to recruit a Democrat to run for Kentucky Attorney General.
Beshear is in his first term after narrowly defeating Republican state Sen. Whitney Westerfield of Hopkinsville who has already declared he’s running again for AG next year. Westerfield is the Senate Judiciary Chair.
Instead of seeking re-election, Beshear wants to challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Bevin who hasn’t announced his own plans for 2019, although most believe he’ll seek a second term. Several other Democrats are expected to enter the race as well.
Whoever wins the race for governor will have a personal stake and interest in the race for Attorney General. That’s because life is generally easier for governors when the attorney general is from the same party.
Beshear has proven to be a thorn in Bevin’s side as attorney general, challenging Bevin’s efforts to reorganize state boards and commissions and pension legislation in the court system.
And Kentucky’s last Republican governor, Ernie Fletcher, was hounded by then Democratic AG Greg Stumbo over alleged Merit System hiring violations, a scandal which ended up costing Fletcher a second term.
Several Kentucky Democrats have been contacted by DAGA about their potential interest in running for attorney general, although the organization’s communications director declined to name those they’ve talked to.
“Our list is a little longer than that,” said Lizzie Ulmer after she was asked about five specific Democrats. “And we’ll continue making recruiting calls and working with potential candidates.”
But she said DAGA wants to see another Democrat elected in Kentucky “to continue the great work Andy Beshear has done fighting back against the governor. (DAGA) has talked to a number of different people in Kentucky.”
One is state Rep. Chris Harris, D-Pikeville.
“I have spoken with them,” Harris said when asked if he’d been contacted by DAGA. “They called shortly after Beshear made his announcement and invited me to come to Washington and discuss the race.”
But Harris said for now he’s focused on his re-election campaign for the state House.
That’s not an obstacle for another House Democrat who has talked to DAGA. Rep. Sannie Overly of Paris, who ran as Jack Conway’s running mate in the 2015 gubernatorial race, did not file for re-election to the House this year.
Overly said she’s spoken with DAGA, adding that “they were strongly interested.” She said she hasn’t made a decision about 2019 or if she might consider a race other than for attorney general.
“But I haven’t ruled it out,” she said of a run for attorney general.
Jennifer Moore, a Louisville attorney who founded and chairs Emerge Kentucky, an organization which recruits and trains Democratic women interested in running for political office, declined to say if she’s spoken with DAGA but she said she’s been encouraged to run for the office.
“But right now, I’m focused on helping 52 Emerge alumni who are on the ballot in 2018,” Moore said. “After November, there’ll be plenty of time to look at next year.”
One of the Kentuckians apparently on DAGA’s list is a former Assistant Attorney General, state Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville. McGarvey served in the office for a year and a half under Jack Conway.
“I’ve served as an Assistant Attorney General, and I know how important that office is in protecting Kentuckians in their everyday lives,” McGarvey said. “I am both humbled and encouraged by the support I’ve received to run for Attorney General.”
Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is term limited and thought to be pondering a run for governor next year. But Grimes, who has now run statewide races three times, including two for Secretary of State and unsuccessfully for U.S. Senator in 2014, is also believed to be on DAGA’s list of potential candidates for AG.
Through a spokesman, Grimes declined to comment specifically on the attorney general’s race or say if she’s talked to DAGA, saying that as the state’s top election official she is focused on the 2018 elections.
“Secretary Grimes is naturally getting overwhelming encouragement for 2019,” said Bradford Queen. “But, right now, she is focused on this election year and doing the job she has now and loves as Secretary of State.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.