Daniel Cameron's victory in last year's race for state attorney general resulted in a historic trifecta for the political newcomer. The Republican became the first African American to be independently elected to any statewide office in Kentucky, the first black person to be attorney general, and the first Republican to win the job since World War II.
“I obviously don't shrink away from the historical significance of this race and this election,” says Cameron. “But what I hope it says is to folks who look like me, folks that are black Americans... that not only can they cast their ballot in a statewide election, but if they want to, they can also have their name appear on that ballot and have it fairly considered by Kentuckians.”
On the campaign trail, Cameron pledged to restore the position of attorney general to what he says is its proper place as the chief law enforcement officer for the commonwealth. He comes into office with a full plate of policy issues, ranging from immigration and abortion to calls for wider criminal justice reforms.
“The job presents so many challenges and so many issues where you can have meaningful impact,” says the new attorney general.
Cameron says he supports the priority legislation in the state Senate that would prohibit communities and other public entities from giving sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. Senate Bill 1 also requires law enforcement agencies in the state to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
Opponents call the measure anti-immigrant, and the bill's sponsors are revising its language. Cameron says he sees the legislation as ensuring collaboration among law enforcement agencies.
“I really don't look at the politics of this,” he says. “What I’m more focused on is how is my role as the chief law enforcement officer going to be perceived by the larger law enforcement community... [Federal officials] need to know that they have a partner at the state level that’s going to walk alongside them in enforcing our immigration policies.”
Protecting Children and the Unborn
In a candidate conversation on KET last October, the Republican promised to “protect the sanctity of life." He said that includes defending pro-life bills passed by the General Assembly from court challenges.
Cameron says his team is set to appear in federal circuit court to defend a state law enacted in 2018 that bans an abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation, or "D&E."
“We should find other ways to extract that child as opposed to the heinous and very cruel way in which a dismemberment abortion occurs," he says.
But the attorney general isn't just out to uphold Kentucky abortion laws. His office has joined in amicus briefs filed in court cases challenging abortion limits enacted in Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio. In the Indiana case, Cameron says a federal appeals court required that state to issue a license to an abortion provider. He argues that under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the power to license a medical provider is held solely by states and can’t be dictated by federal authorities.
Earlier this month, Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, said he would allow Planned Parenthood to reapply for a license to provide abortions in Louisville. Former Gov. Matt Bevin, a staunch abortion opponent, had rejected that license request.
Cameron says the attorney general's office can look into such executive branch actions, but he says he hasn’t made any determination on that matter yet.
The attorney general’s staff is still compiling their budget request to lawmakers. Cameron says he wants funding to strengthen the special prosecutions unit, department of criminal investigations, and child abuse and human trafficking prosecution and prevention efforts.
“Depending on the metric that you use, Kentucky is number one in child abuse. That’s untenable in my view,” says Cameron. “We need to be in the business in the AG’s office of being a voice for the voiceless, the marginalized, the downtrodden, those who cannot speak for themselves.”
Criminal Justice Reform
Cameron says he is eager to participate in discussions about how to best address Kentucky's expanding prison populations.
“I think there will be a conversation that ensues about how best to further the criminal justice reform efforts here,” says the attorney general, “with an emphasis on making sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to be mindful of victims.”
As an African American, Cameron says he also has a responsibility to be an "honest broker" between law enforcement and community activists concerned about racial disparities in policing and the criminal justice system.
“I think our law enforcement community does a good job, but there are times, I think, where it's appropriate in any agency to look at the ways in which we are conducting business,” he says.
In early January, Cameron asked the FBI to investigate a series of pardons made by Gov. Bevin during his final weeks in office. Several of those pardons drew sharp criticism from Republican and Democratic lawmakers as well as from victims and prosecutors.
Cameron says a governor has the constitutional right to issue pardons, but he says such actions must be taken cautiously and judiciously.
Republican pundits are already predicting a long political career for Cameron. Although this is his first elective office, the 34-year old has served as legal counsel to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and he garnered President Donald Trump’s endorsement in the attorney general's race.
Cameron says he intends to run for re-election in 2023, but won't say whether he will complete a second term in office.