By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service
Jack Conway talked last week with Alison Lundergan Grimes before announcing Tuesday that he is running for governor in 2015 through a video emailed to supporters and the media in advance of a 3 p.m. news conference.
“I wanted to assure Alison I would do it in a way that wouldn’t step on her toes,” Conway said Tuesday, referring to Grimes’ need to raise money in advance of the likely fall race to unseat the always well-funded Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell.
Some Democrats, including House Speaker Greg Stumbo, have suggested Democrats interested in running for governor should delay a decision until after the November election.
But Conway said he endorsed Grimes in her race and has already held one fundraiser for her but said a gubernatorial campaign needs time to organize and begin its own fundraising for next year.
Conway was widely assumed to be running even before Tuesday’s announcement, especially after former state Auditor Crit Luallen announced she won’t run. Luallen is godmother to one of Conway’s daughters and the two have been close since they worked together in the administration of Gov. Paul Patton.
Republican Hal Heiner, a businessman from Louisville, is the only other publicly announced candidate for governor but several others are contemplating the race including Republican Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, Democratic state Auditor Adam Edelen, Republican Cathy Bailey of Louisville and perhaps Democratic Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo.
Conway also announced state Rep. Sannie Overly of Paris will be his running mate. Overly, 48, the first woman ever elected to Democratic House leadership is the Democratic Caucus Chair. She is an attorney and a former engineer with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet who championed legislation against human trafficking in the legislature.
As Caucus Chair, Overly is responsible for raising money for Democratic House candidates this fall at a time Republicans hope to take over control of the House.
Overly said she made clear to Conway those duties would come first, at least this year.
“The first thing out of my mouth when we began this conversation,” Overly said, nodding toward Conway, “was that if we go down this road, you need to know what my obligations to the 2014 are.” She said reaction from her Democratic House colleagues has been positive.
Conway said no one has more interest in seeing House Democrats hold onto the majority than a Democratic candidate for governor. Republicans already control the Senate and in Kentucky gubernatorial vetoes can be overridden by a simple majority vote.
He said he’s held one fundraising event for House Democrats and will likely hold another as well as contributing to individual Democratic House candidates through his political PAC.
Conway, 44, is from Louisville and in his second term as Kentucky Attorney General. In 2010, he lost a U.S. Senate race to Republican Rand Paul. He also previously lost a Third Congressional District race to then incumbent Republican Anne Northup in 2002. He served as legal counsel during Patton’s administration before becoming Patton’s Deputy Cabinet Secretary under Luallen.
As Attorney General, Conway has engaged in a high-profile battle against drug crimes and addiction and targeted cyber crimes. He’s also gone after for-profit colleges, suing some for unfair advertising claims and taking advantage of students who relied on federal loans and financial aid but delivered few job placements.
Conway declined to challenge a federal court ruling this spring which said Kentucky must recognize validly performed, same-sex marriages from other states. Gov. Steve Beshear is appealing the ruling as are some private parties. At the time, Conway said an appeal was unlikely to succeed.
He said Tuesday he doesn’t think that decision will hurt him in the governor’s race. By the fall of 2015, he said, Kentucky voters will be more concerned about jobs, education funding and infrastructure.
He also said he will fight to protect Kentucky jobs and low electricity rates through its reliance on coal but said he’s “no climate change denier.”
“But the economic reality is that Kentucky needs some flexibility from the EPA,” Conway said about new environmental regulations. “I will stand up for Kentucky’s jobs and Kentucky energy.”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.