By RONNIE ELLIS / CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT — After months of deliberation, former state Auditor of Public Accounts Crit Luallen announced Thursday she will sit out the 2015 race for governor.
The announcement disappointed friends and associates who see Luallen as an able and experienced administrator — she served in six gubernatorial administrations — but also someone with the character and integrity to restore confidence in government.
“No one can exceed her dedication, her ability or her integrity,” said former Gov. Paul Patton who appointed Luallen as his Executive Cabinet Secretary, essentially state government’s chief executive officer. “I had great respect for Crit coming in but even greater respect going out.”
Luallen, 61, issued a brief statement, saying she made her decision “based on what I thought was best for me personally and my family.”
She said she and her husband, Lynn, “both have our health and a lot we want to do and enjoy together. This simply wasn’t the right time in our lives for us to make the decision to enter the race.”
This isn’t the first time the Frankfort native, a descendant of two 19th century governors — Jordan Crittenden and Luke P. Blackford (her full name is Eugenia Crittenden Blackburn Luallen) — has considered running for governor and then backed away. She thought about running in 2007, but announced in the fall of 2006 that she would not make the race.
Luallen overcame cancer twice — first colon cancer and then a second, unrelated cancer prior to the 2007 race. She said Thursday that both she and Lynn Luallen are now in good health.
She knows she disappointed those who fervently wished to see her become governor.
“This was not an easy decision,” Luallen said in a telephone interview. She said she called about 65 people, many close friends.
“There was a lot of disappointment,” she said. “But I think people who care about me personally understand why I made this decision.”
Her decision will impact the 2015 governor’s race in ways beyond her own personal involvement. Several interested Democrats have been waiting to see what Luallen would do before deciding whether to jump in themselves.
One is Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway who served as Luallen’s deputy in the Patton administration and who refers to her as “almost like a big sister.” Luallen is godmother to one of Conway’s daughters. He has said he would not run against Luallen.
“Crit Luallen is the gold standard for public service and for friendship,” Conway said in a written statement. “In so many ways, I am grateful for her guidance and wisdom. My family would not be where we are today without Crit Luallen.”
Another potential Democratic candidate is Adam Edelen, who succeeded Luallen as state Auditor. He called Luallen “Kentucky’s greatest civil servant,” whose decision “will be a disappointment to many across the commonwealth.”
He conceded he was deferring his own decision about running for governor until Luallen announced her intentions but he said he had no immediate announcement of his political plans.
Republicans also were watching to see what Luallen might do — many said privately she is the one Democrat they’d prefer not to face for governor in 2015. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, thought by some to be the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, said Luallen would hve been “a very formidable opponent, very formidable.”
“She had a lot of support around the state,” Comer said, even among some Republicans. “She’s one of the most respected public servants in Kentucky.”
Luallen lives on the 150 acre farm just outside Frankfort where she and her five brothers grew up. After graduating from Frankfort High School in 1970, Luallen attended Centre College where she earned an Art degree in 1974.
But she volunteered after graduation in the U.S. Senate campaign of then Gov. Wendell Ford, stuffing envelopes, later saying it was during this time she “became fascinated by the whole political process and the idea of being involved in public service.”
After Ford’s election, Luallen joined the administration of his successor, Julian Carroll, and stayed on in John Y. Brown’s administration. She worked on Martha Layne Collins’ 1983 gubernatorial election and served as Collins’ arts commissioner.
At the conclusion of Collins’ term, Luallen then moved to private sector, working for a time at Humana, Inc., before heading the Greater Louisville Economic Development Partnership. In that role, Luallen helped attract UPS to Louisville. After joining the Patton administration, first as deputy cabinet secretary, Luallen was instrumental in negotiations between the Democratic governor and the new Republican Senate majority. She played a key role in helping Patton pass the 1997 Higher Education Reform package which reorganized the state’s public university and community college system.
Luallen reluctantly stayed on with the Patton administration after an extra-marital affair the governor was having became public and weakened his political power, but she subsequently resigned, saying the scandal made it nearly impossible for the administration to remain effective or push through its legislative agenda.
In 2003, Luallen was narrowly elected Auditor while Republican Ernie Fletcher at the top of the ticket rode into the governor’s mansion after the Patton scandal. But she was easily re-elected in 2007 and executed successful and highly publicized audits of several county governments, city agencies and quasi-government organizations, exposing corruption, questionable spending and ethical behavior.
Her reputation for professional competence and personal ethics gave the office a higher profile and made Luallen a popular political figure, admired even by some Republicans. She seemed a favorite to win the 2015 Democratic nomination for governor and a formidable candidate in the general election.
But again — as in 2007 — Luallen valued her personal life too much to put it through the cauldron of a Kentucky governor’s race.
“I had so much encouragement from so many close friends and I felt I was as prepared for this job as anyone who’s ever held it,” Luallen said. “But I would have had to give up my entire personal life and I just decided I didn’t want to that.”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.
By RONNIE ELLIS / CNHI News Service
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