Ellen Williams Celebrated for Contributions as a Leading Republican Woman
Republican women getting stronger in Kentucky politics
By John David Dyche
Females are over half of Kentucky's population, but their political power and representation do not match their numbers.
There are only 19 women in Kentucky's 100-member state House of Representatives. Eleven are Democrats and eight are Republicans.
There are only four women in Kentucky's 38-member state Senate. Two are Democrats and two are Republicans.
This 16.7 percent puts Kentucky eight from last among all states for female representation in the state legislature.
There is no woman in Kentucky's congressional delegation. There are only three female mayors among Kentucky's 25 largest cities.
Kentucky has had one woman governor, Martha Layne Collins. She left office in 1987, but is still a presence at Democratic Party events.
The state's highest-ranking Democrat at present is outgoing lieutenant governor and former auditor Crit Luallen. She is widely admired, but repeatedly passed on races for higher office.
Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has won twice statewide, but she lost badly to Republican Mitch McConnell for U.S. Senate in between her victories. State representative Sannie Overly occupied the second spot on the Democratic gubernatorial ticket that was soundly beaten last month.
Both have political futures, but their prospects are not as bright as before as Kentucky turns ever more Republican red than Democratic blue. So Democrats are looking at a pair of celebrity women outside government.
They are actress Ashley Judd and former Miss America turned veterans' advocate Heather French Henry. There are obviously hardworking, smart, and well-connected non-celebrity Democratic women from around the state, but the party's political bench does not look deep.
The Democratic campaign mantra of a Republican "war on women" has failed in Kentucky. Republicans are actually much better positioned for female political success in the state than are Democrats.
The GOP is building on considerable current strength.
Leaders like Elaine Chao, former Secretary of Labor and wife of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Cathy Bailey, the former American ambassador to Latvia, and former U.S. Representative Anne Northup of Louisville still wield clout in Republican circles.
Kelley Ashby Paul, wife of U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul, is another political spouse with plenty of potential and power in her own right.
Just-elected lieutenant governor, Jenean Hampton is Kentucky's first African-American female constitutional officer. Hampton has an impressive background, an inspiring personal story, and the potential to rise within the party's ranks.
Allison Joy Ball was the other big Republican woman winner in the recent election. The incoming state treasurer has obvious political talent and roots in increasingly Republican Eastern Kentucky mountains.
A brainy conservative woman, Kristen Webb-Hill, is transition director for newly elected Republican governor Matt Bevin.
His transition team features other females in key positions, including Louisville lawyer Bonita Black for Health and Family Services and Kathy Walker of Paintsville for Energy and Environment.
Former state senator and current Louisville Metro Council member Julie Denton is also on Bevin's transition team. She has experiential expertise and good relationships with the Republican-controlled state Senate from her time in Frankfort. Jessica Ditto is Bevin's communications director.
Julie Raque Adams may be the most important female Republican politician in Kentucky. Not only is Adams a highly respected state senator and potential future candidate for the Third District U.S. House seat, but she is also the executive director of Kentucky Strong.
Kentucky Strong is the GOP counterpart to the Democratic group Emerge Kentucky. Its mission is "to recruit, train and assist in the election of pro-business, Republican women to public office."
Of the effort McConnell says, "Women are leaders in their homes, businesses, communities and increasingly, at all levels of government, but much more work remains to be done. Kentucky Strong is a big step towards making sure conservative pro-business women across Kentucky have the training and resources they need to run -- and win -- elections."
Kentucky Strong could be a key factor as Republicans next year try again to capture the Kentucky House of Representatives. It is assisting good female candidates like Bowling Green city commissioner Melinda Hill, who is running for the seat now held by Jody Richards, a longtime member of Democratic leadership in the state House.
Conservative and Republican women have some presence in statewide political media, but merit more. Bridget Bush brings common sense to The Courier-Journal. Former Republican Party of Kentucky leader Ellen Williams provides insightful election commentary on Kentucky Educational Television.
Republican women are strong and getting stronger in Kentucky politics.
(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.)