FRANKFORT — The May primary election for secretary of state promises to showcase a long-standing feud within the Kentucky Democratic Party and threatens to make Gov. Steve Beshear look politically weak as he seeks re-election.
Less than two weeks after Beshear appointed Bowling Green Mayor Elaine Walker to fill the final 11 months of outgoing Secretary of State Trey Grayson's term, a Who's Who list of Kentucky Democrats pledged their support for another candidate on Thursday.
Alison Lundergan Grimes, daughter of former state Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan, announced her candidacy for secretary of state at rallies in three cities that were attended by Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, House Speaker Greg Stumbo and former Gov. Julian Carroll, among others.
Democratic consultant Dale Emmons, who is working for Grimes' campaign, said she also has the endorsements of U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler of Versailles and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.
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A Democratic political consultant who is not involved in this year's secretary of state race, Danny Briscoe, said it was "a political mistake" for Beshear to appoint Walker, who will replace Grayson when he leaves Feb. 1 to take a job at Harvard University.
"My comment is no reflection on Walker," Briscoe said. "I say her appointment was a mistake for Beshear because when a governor appoints people who are going to run for the office, he must be sure of two things: they are qualified and they are going to win if they run for the office.
"If you appoint someone who doesn't win election, that makes you look weak. Grimes is going to win. She is a fresh face in the party from a politically strong family and will have plenty of money."
Walker filed her candidacy papers for a full four-year term as secretary of state on Jan. 12. She was not available for comment Thursday.
Grimes filed for the office Thursday and held news conferences at the Lyric Theatre in Lexington, the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort and the Glassworks in Louisville to announce her candidacy.
Beshear and Jerry Lundergan, who have both represented the same state House district in Lexington at different points in their careers, have long been at odds.
Their differences primarily stem from Lundergan's support for the late Wallace Wilkinson over Beshear in the May 1987 Democratic primary election for governor, Briscoe said.
"The bottom line in this story," Briscoe said, "is that the governor needs to get over being against Jerry Lundergan. He could have settled things with Lundergan by appointing someone to fill Grayson's term who wasn't going to run or talking to Lundergan about his daughter."
Grimes, a 33-year-old Lexington attorney, said Thursday in an interview that she did not seek Beshear's appointment to fill Grayson's term.
"I didn't have the opportunity to speak to the governor before he made his appointment," she said. "I respect that he had an appointment to make and that he reached out to a woman. I look forward to a spirited campaign."
Lundergan, who is the point person in Kentucky for former President Bill Clinton, said he will not criticize Beshear for his appointment of Walker.
"He has his job to do and my daughter has her job to do," he said. "Alison understands you cannot pick your opponents, that you have to be focused on the type of race you want to run."
Beshear stopped short Thursday of endorsing Walker but praised her qualifications.
Beshear said he will "respect the voting process of the May Democratic primary election," adding that "I think Elaine Walker is qualified or I wouldn't have appointed her."
Carroll, who hosted the rally for Grimes in the Capitol, said it "would have been more beneficial to the Kentucky Democratic Party" if Beshear had replaced Grayson with someone who was not going to run this year.
"You now have two factions in the party — Lundergan and Beshear," Carroll said.
On the day Beshear appointed Walker, Grayson in a statement said he had suggested to Beshear that he appoint Mary Sue Helm, a longtime employee of the office and state election administrator, to fill his term. Helm said she has no intentions of running for any public office.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Beshear will "have to live with his call."
"I would say that if anyone wants to run in this race who hasn't filed may want to think about it a second time because Alison is a pretty dynamic candidate," he said. "She's going to have a lot of support."
Mongiardo said he was not consulted by Beshear about the Walker appointment.
"I heard about it from the press," he said.
Mongiardo said he considers Walker "a very fine person," but he and his wife "have known Alison for years and see her as the type of leader we want in our state."
Emmons said it's important that the governor has not made a specific endorsement in the race.
"I think he will be hearing from a lot of people over the next few weeks," Emmons said. "I don't expect with his own campaign for re-election that he will expend a lot of energy trying to nominate someone to another constitutional office."