Dea Riley brings energy, and baggage, to Gatewood Galbraith's campaign

but riley also brings some baggage to race

lblackford@herald-leader.comOctober 13, 2011 

  • Dea Riley

    Party: Independent

    Born: May 17, 1968

    Residence: Frankfort

    Occupation: Free-lance marketing consultant

    Education: Shelby County High School; attended Western Kentucky University

    Family: Divorced; four children

    Public office: None

    Web site:

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories about the candidates for lieutenant governor.

In Gatewood Galbraith's eighth run for statewide office, observers have noticed a new focus, attention to detail and online presence missing from previous campaigns.

The credit, the gubernatorial candidate said, goes to his running mate, Dea Riley, an economic development and marketing professional who has managed several previous political campaigns.

"She is such a good writer, and she's so good with people," Galbraith said recently of the woman he picked to be lieutenant governor. "She's helped so much with social media."

But Riley also has made questionable decisions in the past that have put her at odds with former allies and created embarrassing legal problems.

For example, in 2003 she was issued a citation in Nelson County for breaking into a house in Bloomfield. She was charged with criminal trespass and paid a $150 fine, according to court records.

The police citation said she crawled through a front window with her boyfriend at the time. She was on the second floor when the alarm went off.

Reached Wednesday, Riley said she was told the historic house was abandoned. Because she was fixing up another historic house at the time, she wanted to see how the chimney was built, so she went into the house. Her children were there, too, she said.

In 2007, Riley parted ways with Supreme Court Justice Mary Noble after managing Noble's successful campaign the year before. Noble complained that Riley had used Noble's name improperly in fund-raising letters for Democratic attorney general candidate Bob Bullock, who was running against Jack Conway. Noble notified the Judicial Conduct Commission, and told the two campaigns that she was neutral and did not give permission for her name to be used.

Bullock, an attorney in private practice, is supporting Gov. Steve Beshear in this election. He called the incident during his campaign "unfortunate," but said: "I think Dea Riley is a very enthusiastic and interesting person."

Last year, Riley ended up in mediation (with Galbraith as her attorney) with a former friend who had filed a complaint against her with the Fayette County Attorney. Sharon Roark alleged that Riley borrowed her car, said she would buy it, but never paid her the full amount and left it abandoned in Frankfort. Riley called the allegation "preposterous."

Roark said that as a result of mediation, Riley and Galbraith ended up paying her most of what was owed, but she declined to comment further.

Scott Lasley, a political science professor at Western Kentucky University, said all behaviors of a candidate are relevant news for voters, but it's not clear that they matter to the candidacy of a third-place independent ticket.

"It would be a bigger deal if it were Jerry Abramson or Richie Farmer (the Democratic and Republican candidates for lieutenant governor, respectively), but no one believes that Gatewood Galbraith will be governor or that Dea Riley will be lieutenant governor," Lasley said. "Still, unique behavior will generate a lot of scrutiny."

Helping Utah

Riley, 43, was born in Louisville but spent most of her childhood in Shelby County, where she graduated from high school. She briefly attended Western Kentucky University, then moved to Utah. That's where she married and had four children. She also helped care for two more children.

In Utah, Riley got interested in how governments operate when she was working for a radio station and heard about the Ruby Ridge incident, where Randy Weaver was involved in a shootout with federal agents, resulting in the death of his wife and son. A federal agent also was killed.

"I realized that if you had told me this could happen, I would have said no," she said during a recent interview. "No one is well-educated in terms of government."

Riley said that as her children grew older, she got more interested in economic development and marketing in Park City, Utah. She said she worked for numerous ski resorts in Utah, including Canyons Resort, Soldier Hollow and Solitude Mountain, helping to build up the ski industry that eventually would attract the 2002 Winter Olympics.

"We went from being little Park City to being a four-season resort, big Park City," she said.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Riley said, she was single again and wanted to move back home. "I was never going to be from Utah," she said.

But she was horrified by the poverty and other problems she saw in her native state.

"I love children and the status of women and children in the state is a huge concern for me," she said.

She says the same kind of economic development that made Utah a ski mecca could make Kentucky more wealthy, too. A former Republican, she joined Galbraith's campaign as a way to get her ideas in front of the public.

"We need creative, pragmatic, out-of-the-box thinking," she said. "We need to inventory our assets. We need to promote what Kentucky does best."

Marketing Kentucky

Since her return, she's lived in Bardstown, Lexington, Frankfort and Eastern Kentucky, including Letcher County, whose mountains she thinks could jump-start the region. "Appalachia has missed the boat on recreational activities," she said.

She also has worked to better publicize the problem of timber theft in Eastern Kentucky.

As a free-lance marketing consultant, she said she's been involved with marketing biofuel production in Western Kentucky and has started plans to build a luxury spa resort in the eastern end of the state. She also wants to build the biggest horse sculpture in the world to better market the Kentucky Horse Park and Kentucky's signature horse industry.

Riley's environmental views became the Galbraith/Riley platform against mountaintop-removal mining, the controversial method of blowing up mountains to extract coal. It's not just the environmental degradation that drives her opposition to mountaintop-removal mining, Riley said, but that the "coal companies have shut out all other energy development."

Billy Reed, a former sportswriter who is now a scholar in residence at Georgetown College, said he got to know Riley after she contacted him a few years ago.

"I got a call from her because she's heard some good things about me," said Reed, who also served as spokesman for Jim Host when he was Commerce secretary under then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher. "I was very impressed with her enthusiasm and ideas and intelligence; she's got some good ideas about tourism and economic development."

Win or lose, Riley said, she has enjoyed the campaign. Afterward, she plans to build a house in Letcher County.

"I have had an opportunity to interact much more directly and to help more people," she said.

Herald-Leader reporter Jack Brammer contributed to this article.

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