Politics & Government

Obama appoints Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson to White House post; Crit Luallen named as replacement


FRANKFORT — Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson is leaving the state Capitol for a job in the White House, and former Auditor Crit Luallen will take his place as Kentucky's No. 2 public official.

Gov. Steve Beshear announced Abramson's resignation and Luallen's appointment at a news conference Thursday in the Capitol's formal State Reception Room.

Abramson, nicknamed "mayor for life" for winning five terms as Louisville's mayor, will resign as lieutenant governor at 5 p.m. Nov. 13 to become a deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and director of intergovernmental affairs in the White House.

The job involves linking the president's domestic agenda with city, county, state and tribal governments.

High among his duties will be working with states on the kickoff of the second open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Beshear was widely praised for his implementation of the federal health law, allowing more than 500,000 people to access Medicaid or private health insurance through the state's insurance exchange.

Abramson also will urge states and cities to raise the minimum wage.

After Abramson's resignation takes effect, Luallen will be sworn in as lieutenant governor in a private ceremony. A formal public swearing-in is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. the next day in the Capitol Rotunda.

Luallen, who has decades of experience in Kentucky's executive branch, said she didn't have to think twice about accepting Beshear's appointment.

She will be lieutenant governor until the end of Beshear's term, in December 2015.

Luallen, 62, will become the third woman to be Kentucky's lieutenant governor. The other two were Thelma Stovall and Martha Layne Collins.

Both Abramson and Luallen had been mentioned as possible candidates for governor in 2015, but both took themselves out of contention months ago. Luallen has since endorsed Attorney General Jack Conway's bid.

Luallen will be Beshear's third lieutenant governor. Hazard physician and former state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo held the post during Beshear's first four-year term. The governor announced in July 2009 that Abramson would run on his ticket in 2011 because Mongiardo decided to run for the U.S. Senate in 2010.

Abramson, 68, said he was notified about two months ago about the White House job.

He said he's honored to take a role "to help this country's mayors, county executives, governors and other local officials."

As lieutenant governor, Abramson was chairman of Beshear's tax reform commission, which produced a detailed report that was largely ignored by state lawmakers. He also launched a statewide version of "Close the Deal," a program he created while mayor of Louisville to help high school students go to college, and he chaired the Kyhealthnow initiative, which has the goal of improving Kentucky's worst health statistics, including high rates of lung cancer and obesity.

At the White House, Abramson will replace David Agnew, who recently took a job with an investment bank.

Abramson said he will report to Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. His appointment doesn't have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

"The good news is that now, there's a Kentuckian in the White House," Beshear said. "What an asset for our state, to have someone who understands Kentucky's needs and can make a direct appeal on federal decisions and policies."

Beshear said he didn't delay the announcement of Abramson's departure until after Tuesday's general election across the state. He said the timing was determined by the White House.

Luallen worked for six Kentucky governors before winning two terms as auditor.

As auditor, she uncovered millions of dollars in government fraud and questionable expenditures, leading to the criminal prosecutions of 34 people.

Tom Eblen: Luallen ushered in 'new level of accountability'

In statements, Kentucky's top two legislative leaders praised Luallen's appointment.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said she "has served state government in a variety of ways over the years, so she certainly will bring a wealth of information to the administration."

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he and Luallen "have always worked well together, professionally and personally, and I look forward to that relationship continuing with Lt. Gov. Luallen."

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