Jacqueline Coleman introduced herself Monday to Kentucky voters as a public school teacher and basketball coach, and then added the title of Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor to her resume.
Coleman, a fifth-generation resident of Mercer County, joined Attorney General Andy Beshear on a statewide tour Monday as they announced their bid to replace Gov. Matt Bevin and Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton next year.
Bevin has not yet said whether he will seek re-election to another four-year term, but Beshear is counting on Coleman's experience in education to help him win votes from teachers and other public employees who are upset with changes that Bevin and the GOP-led legislature made this year to Kentucky's ailing pensions systems.
Beshear is fighting the new pension law in court with the Kentucky Education Association.
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He called Coleman "a leader in our battle for public education."
Coleman, the daughter of former Democratic state Rep. Jack Coleman of Burgin, has worked over a decade in public education, serving as a teacher, high school basketball coach and administrator.
She has a bachelor's degree in history with an emphasis in political science and secondary education certificate from Centre College. She also has a master's in political science from the University of Louisville. During graduate school, she was an intern at the Women's National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C.
Coleman, 36, began her teaching career at Burgin High School before moving to East Jessamine High School, where she was the girls' basketball coach from 2009 to 2015. When she left East Jessamine, Coleman wrote a letter directed at her players that said “Just like you, I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up. ... Maybe I’ll get back into coaching. Maybe I’ll be governor one day.”
She's currently an assistant principal at Nelson County High School and is working on a doctorate in educational leadership at the University of Kentucky.
Coleman played college basketball and has been an advocate for empowering women in the political process. She founded Lead Kentucky in 2013, a non-profit that helps women at Kentucky colleges to run for leadership positions on their campuses and later in their professional fields. She also has assisted with Emerge Kentucky, a program that helps Democratic women candidates.
As a basketball coach, she was named Coach of the Year for Region 12 at East Jessamine High in 2015 by the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches, and made one appearance in the Kentucky Girls' Sweet Sixteen tournament.
In her only other bid for public office, Coleman lost a race in 2014 for the 55th House District seat in Jessamine, Mercer and Washington counties against Republican incumbent Kim King of Harrodsburg by a vote 11,100 to 5,927.
"When I ran in 2014, I ran because I was concerned about the pending charter school system that was coming," she said. "I was concerned about the teacher retirement system. I was very concerned about the lack of funding in public education."
She said many more people are paying attention to state politics today than in 2014.
"As a basketball coach, one of the lessons I taught my players was, it's not what happens to you, it's how you react to it, that matters," she said. "And after 2014, I stayed active. I remained determined to continue to fight for public education from whatever angle I could and my resilience and my resolve is exactly why I am here today."
Coleman said she is running with Beshear because "we need a change" in the governor's office.
"His fight to protect our families has made him an outsider in Frankfort, and his passion and conviction for Kentucky is the one thing that will truly restore open and honest government that will once again work for each and every one of us," she said.
She frequently posts about politics on her Facebook page. On July 3, she wrote: "As a bball coach, win or lose, we show respect and humility to one another, which reveals our character. The highest ranking elected official in Kentucky is incapable of doing what us coaches do every day. Proof it's past time for every day KY citizens to run, serve and lead. Come on, November!"
Underneath her words were a newspaper article with Bevin's photo and the headline, "Bevin cuts dental, vision benefits to nearly 500K Medicaid recipients."
A spokesman for the Republican Party of Kentucky defended Bevin's attempts to overhaul Medicaid and the state's pension systems
“Combined with our crippling unfunded pension liability, our obligations to Medicaid will bankrupt our state," said Tres Watson. "Without changes to the status quo, that is where we are headed but the Beshear/Coleman ticket would rather lob political bombs and placate their base than do the hard work of putting our state back on the path to prosperity after decades of Democratic corruption and mismanagement.”
As lieutenant governor, Beshear said, Coleman will work on "creating a world-class public education system" and the many challenges facing rural Kentucky.
Coleman lives in Mercer County with her husband, Chris O'Bryan, who also is a basketball coach. She is stepmother to his two sons — Will and Nate. A daughter, Emma, whom Coleman coached, became a member of the family through foster care and adoption.
Coleman's father, Jack, who was in the state House from 1991 to 2004, said Monday he is "very proud that Andy has given her this opportunity. There's no doubt that she cares for this state and will work hard for it."
He said "a common question" he is getting is whether they are related to "King" Kelly Coleman, considered the greatest Kentucky high school basketball player who played in the 1950s for Wayland High School in Floyd County.
"No kin," said the father.
Her grandfather, Jack Coleman, was U of L's first 1,000-point scorer. He played in the NBA for the Rochester Royals and St. Louis Hawks and was a two-time NBA champion.