When Crit Luallen was young, she planned to be an artist like her mother and grandmother. But after graduating from Centre College with a studio arts degree, she returned home to Frankfort and found a job in the mail room of then-Gov. Wendell Ford’s 1974 campaign for U.S. Senate. She says the opportunity opened her eyes to the possibilities of public service.
“So my art took a backseat, and it has for a number of years now,” Luallen says with a laugh.
After a long career in state government, working for six governors and twice being elected as Kentucky’s Auditor of Public Accounts, Luallen is now serving as lieutenant governor. She appeared on KET’s Connections to discuss her life in politics, and her hopes for the remaining months of the Beshear administration.
After her second term as auditor expired in 2012, Luallen had been considered as a possible Democratic contender for U.S. Senate or Kentucky governor, but she declined to run in either of those races. Then last November, she got a call from Gov. Steve Beshear. He needed a replacement for then-Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson who had just accepted a job at the Obama White House. Beshear said Luallen was his first and only choice to fill the vacancy.
Now that she’s back in public life, the questions about her future political aspirations have returned. And Luallen’s response is tantalizingly ambiguous.
“I don’t see any scenario where I would run for office again, but then I didn’t see this opportunity to step in and serve as lieutenant governor,” Luallen says. “So you never want to close all the doors that are out there. I hope I can continue to contribute in the public arena.”
Instead, Luallen says she’s focused on helping Beshear fulfill his agenda in the 10 months he has left in office. She credits the governor for his integrity and for successfully guiding the state through the financial crisis.
Focused on Kentucky’s Health
Luallen says she will work on Beshear’s Kentucky Health Now initiative to improve the health of Kentuckians, and to further implement the Affordable Care Act in the commonwealth.
“I don’t know how any public leader who knows we have the highest mortality rate for cancer in America could be against these reforms and still sleep at night,” Luallen says. “We have to come together – all parties, all leaders, all decision-makers – and figure out how to keep Kentucky on a track to becoming healthier.”
The issue is more than a job for Luallen. As a cancer survivor herself, she says she knows the benefits of screenings and early detection, and says all Kentuckians should have access to preventive health measures like that. She says the ACA is pushing citizens towards a model of living healthier lives, which will in turn benefit Kentucky as a whole.
“There’s nothing more important than the health of our people – it touches every other aspect of our society,” Luallen says.
A Family History in Politics
You could say the lieutenant governor has genetic predisposition for public service. Luallen is descended from two Kentucky governors: John J. Crittenden (1850-1853), for whom she’s named, and Dr. Luke Blackburn (1879-1883).
Throughout her own 40 years in government, Luallen says she’s tried to be a good role model for younger generations, especially women who might consider a career in public service. She recounts turning down an economic development post in Louisville that would have paid her three times her state government salary because she says no other job could’ve given her the sense of accomplishment that she got from helping Gov. Paul Patton pass higher education reforms.
“Government does have a role in making people’s lives better,” Luallen says. “It’s really important to remember that in spite of the controversies and the conflicts that we so often see in the headlines, there are an awful lot of good people in the public area doing the right thing every day to make things work for our communities and our state and our nation.”