Former Louisville mayoral candidate Hal Heiner announced his Republican campaign for governor Tuesday, joining running mate KC Crosbie of Lexington in railing against the "status quo" in Frankfort.
With about 100 supporters cheering them on at Star Manufacturing in Lexington, Heiner and Crosbie kicked off a two-day tour of the state without mentioning potential GOP rivals Agriculture Commissioner James Comer or former ambassador to Latvia Cathy Bailey.
"Today, Kentucky is at a crossroads and we're in desperate need of strong leadership and innovative thinking," said Heiner, his hands shaking slightly and standing in front of a banner reading "Kentucky First." "With my running mate, KC Crosbie, I am convinced that we can bring actual leadership to Frankfort for the first time in a long time and make dramatic improvements in people's lives all across our state. And that's why I am excited to announce that I am running to be the next governor of Kentucky."
Crosbie, a former Urban County Council member, was offered the spot on Heiner's ticket last week, according to campaign manager Joe Burgan.
Crosbie also is one of Kentucky's three members of the Republican National Committee and is the finance chairwoman for the Republican Party of Kentucky. Some Republican leaders, including House minority floor leader Jeff Hoover, told the Herald-Leader on Monday that Crosbie should resign from those positions.
Burgan said Tuesday that Crosbie has no intention of resigning from the RNC, and she will look into whether she should step down from her post at the state party.
Crosbie told the crowd, many of whom said they were friends of hers but not familiar with Heiner, that she was "really pumped up to get started with this campaign."
"Changing the leadership in Frankfort won't be easy," she said. "It's going to be really tough, and we all understand why. The Democrat politicians who control Frankfort now and those aspiring to replace them are the same insiders who have had a stranglehold over change for decades."
In addition to her official duties with the Republican Party, Crosbie took heat Monday from Comer and his allies for the lobbying work by her husband, Scott, on behalf of pro-gambling interests GTech Corp. and Tropicana Casinos and Resorts.
Heiner, a former Louisville Metro Council member, largely demurred when asked about Scott Crosbie's work and his position on expanded gaming.
"The bullets already are starting to fly," Heiner said with a chuckle. "And actually, it's the politics of old that have held back this state. All of this tangential ideas instead of focusing on where this state can go, and that's why we end up with 55 percent of our children that are either dropping out or not prepared for college or career."
When pressed, Heiner said he has the same position on expanded gambling that he had when running for mayor of Louisville, saying that Kentuckians should be allowed to decide the issue at the ballot box. He added: "I likely wouldn't vote for it."
Heiner, a millionaire businessman and chairman of Capstone Realty, said his top priorities are jobs and education. He touched on his signature issue of charter schools, saying that with more than half of Kentucky students ill-prepared for their futures, "we need a new plan."
"A plan that gives parents a choice in education for their child," Heiner said. "And without a new plan, our children and our state will continue to be left behind for the next 100 years. I know Kentucky can be first in education."
He cited his time in the private sector as a necessary qualification for the state's next governor.
"Our state needs a chief executive with business experience," Heiner said. "Someone who has competed in the global economy and has a track record of success."
Promising "a campaign of big ideas and lofty goals," Heiner said his announcement is the beginning of "a 20-month journey all across Kentucky."
After the first announcement in Lexington, Heiner departed by plane to Hazard and Bowling Green before an afternoon event in Louisville.
The duo planned to continue their tour, visiting Owensboro and Paducah on Wednesday.
"So thank you so much for being here at the launch," Heiner said. "Now it's time to get to work, so let's go."
Comer has said previously that he doesn't plan to announce his gubernatorial intentions until after the November elections.
"I've been overwhelmed by calls of support from friends and elected officials from across the state," Comer said Tuesday. "And I think I'm in a good position if I decide to get in the race at the appropriate time."