FRANKFORT — Tom FitzGerald, whose name is synonymous with environmental protection in Kentucky, is considering a possible run for the U.S. Senate next year against Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell.
"This is very preliminary," FitzGerald, a lawyer and director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "You've heard of testing the waters. I haven't even taken off my shoes yet."
FitzGerald, a lifelong Democrat who has never sought public office, said he is being encouraged to challenge McConnell and thinks McConnell's tenure in the U.S. Senate since January 1985 should come to an end.
"I've seen the devolution of McConnell as a progressive, modern county judge in Jefferson County to an increasingly right-wing politician who is defined more by protecting power than meeting the needs of Kentuckians," he said.
FitzGerald, 58, said he expects to make a decision about the U.S. Senate race by mid-May.
If he runs, FitzGerald said he would resign his job with the non-profit resources council, which he has held since 1984.
"I have told the council board what I am considering and I could not stay on as director since this is a non-partisan agency," he said.
FitzGerald has been involved in major environmental issues in the state since the early 1970s.
He is a national authority on the enforcement of the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, the federal law designed to minimize environmental damage from surface coal mining. He also has been instrumental in the last 30 years on key environmental measures in the state legislature.
He was active in this year's state legislative session, helping to stop a bill that would have deregulated the land line telephone industry in Kentucky.
FitzGerald said his public consideration of challenging McConnell should not hurt his effectiveness as a lobbyist if he decides against running.
"Legislators know our work is for the environment and consumers and is not political," he said. "We have been very bipartisan."
FitzGerald said he is trying to meet with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who also is weighing a possible challenge to McConnell, and with one of Gov. Steve Beshear's staffers.
So far, no Democrat with a statewide following has come forward to run against McConnell. Contractor Ed Marksberry of Owensboro and Louisville musician and music promoter Bennie J. Smith have said they will enter the race.
Actress Ashley Judd announced last month that she would not enter the race, a possibility she had been considering since late 2012.