Politics & Government

Lt. Gov. Abramson says he won't seek Kentucky governor's office in 2015

Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson arrived at Churchill Downs on Saturday for the 2013 Kentucky Derby.  Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff
Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson arrived at Churchill Downs on Saturday for the 2013 Kentucky Derby. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

ELIZABETHTOWN — Democratic Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson ended months of political speculation Tuesday by saying he will not run for governor of Kentucky in 2015.

Abramson, the former mayor of Louisville, revealed his political intentions in a speech before the Elizabethtown Rotary Club, saying it was "not a snap decision."

Abramson, who turns 67 Sept. 12, said he wants to focus on improving education in the state.

"I would like to in the next chapter of my life focus on one thing I really believe will make a significant difference in the development of Kentucky," Abramson said. "And that focus is on education."

"That's why I've decided that I am not going to run for governor in 2015."

During his tenure as mayor and as lieutenant governor, Abramson has pushed a program called "Close the Deal" in Kentucky high schools. It is designed to encourage more seniors to consider going to college.

Abramson, who headed Gov. Steve Beshear's special commission on tax reform, said he hopes to speak out in the 2014 General Assembly about the need to spend money improving education.

He also emphasized that his decision not to run "had nothing to do" with his wife's diagnosis of breast cancer.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reported last week that Madeline Abramson was diagnosed with breast cancer in April and has undergone surgery and radiation. The Abramsons have said her prognosis is excellent.

In a news conference after his speech at the Stone Hearth restaurant, Abramson said he has no plans to run for any public office at this time.

He said he could be a strong advocate for better education without being an elected official, but noted that he still has 2½ years as lieutenant governor.

"The bottom line for me was focus," Abramson said. "If you run for governor, you are involved in this issue, that issue. ... Education is where I have my passion. Education is where I think I'm supposed to be."

Abramson also said he will not be involved in the Democratic primary election for governor in 2015 but will support whoever wins the nomination.

He said he will be working for Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes' campaign in next year's U.S. Senate race.

With Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear unable to seek another term because Kentucky governors are limited to two consecutive terms, several Democrats are eyeing the governor's race. They include Attorney General Jack Conway, Auditor Adam Edelen, former Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and former Auditor Crit Luallen.

State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer is frequently mentioned as a Republican candidate for the state's highest elective office.

Abramson also said his decision not to be on the 2015 ballot for governor had nothing to do with his Jewish faith. Kentucky has never had a Jewish governor.

"I've never heard that brought up in any place I've been," he said of his faith. "They said that was going to be a problem when I ran for mayor, and it never happened."

Abramson is the longest-serving mayor of Louisville, the state's largest city. He is the only three-term mayor of the old city of Louisville (1986-1999) and served two terms (2003-2011) as the first mayor of the consolidated city-county of Louisville Metro.

In Louisville, he often was referred to as "mayor for life."

Beshear announced on July 19, 2009, that Abramson would run for lieutenant governor on his ticket in 2011.

Mongiardo was lieutenant governor in Beshear's first four-year term. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010 instead of serving another term as the state's No. 2 executive.

In 2011, the Beshear-Abramson ticket easily defeated the Republican ticket of then-Senate President David Williams and then-Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer.

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