Although her job includes no specific constitutional duties, Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton is no less focused on being a good public servant.
“Obviously my number one role is to support Gov. Bevin however he sees fit,” says Hampton. “I’m looking for ways not necessarily to bring visibility to [my] office but to work with the citizens to improve their lives.”
Hampton discussed her historic role as the first African American to hold statewide office, and her views on a range of policy issues on KET’s Connections with Renee Shaw.
Hampton says she still doesn’t give much thought to being the first black constitutional officer for the commonwealth. But she acknowledges meeting many older African Americans who’ve told her they thought they would never live to see it happen. Instead, Hampton views her election as more of an affirmation of the power of the American dream. She says many other Kentuckians of all backgrounds are capable and qualified to hold public office, if they’re willing to accept what she calls the nasty aspects of politics.
“But someone has to do it, somebody has to make change,” Hampton says. “There’s more change makers out there, we just need to get them more involved in government.”
An Insider’s View of the Budget
Hampton’s early days in office have been filled with planning how she can best use her time and energy for her priorities of education, entrepreneurship, emergency preparedness, and being an example of the American dream. She says she’s already received numerous requests from teachers to speak to students, ranging from elementary school to college. Hampton says she enjoys using her personal story to explain the choices she’s made in her life, to show how the Bible and U.S. Constitution inspire her, and to illustrate how sometimes one has to swim against the tide to do what needs to be done.
The lieutenant governor says she also attended the initial conversations about developing a new biennial budget for the commonwealth. Hampton says she’s thrilled with the spending plan Gov. Matt Bevin proposed.
“Finally, adults are in charge of the checkbook,” Hampton says, “because clearly Kentucky needs to make some cuts because we’re not a wealthy state.”
Hampton says she understands the opposition to yet another round of funding reductions, especially for higher education. She says the cuts will force state employees to be more creative in how they can do their jobs. The lieutenant governor also reminds school officials that while the funding losses aren’t permanent, they are a necessary step towards solvency for Kentucky.
“Let’s expand our tax base, we’ll get money flowing into our coffers again, and then we can have the conversation about spending more money at the colleges,” says Hampton.
One aspect of state spending that the Bevin Administration wants to increase is funding for workforce training. Hampton says Kentucky lacks the level of skilled workers that many employers want today. If the state wants to be able to attract and grow businesses, then Hampton says it must commit to more workforce development opportunities.
Open to Compromise But Standing on Principles
Hampton says the administration’s push for pro-life legislation goes to the heart of being Christian conservative leaders. She contends the election of Bevin and her illustrates the conservative nature of Kentuckians, both Republicans and Democrats. She adds that Republican voter registrations have increased dramatically since their election in November.
This is the first elective office for both Bevin and Hampton, and their first experience at dealing with the legislative process. The lieutenant governor says the administration will be open to compromise if the compromises are “good ones.”
“We’re willing to give but we stand on principle, though,” Hampton says. “We believe our principles work.”
As they head into the second half of the 2016 General Assembly session, Hampton says she hopes lawmakers pass a budget that is close to the one Bevin proposed. She also wants Kentuckians to see a governor and lieutenant governor that are as open and accessible in office as they were when they campaigned last fall.
“I hope that people feel that this is a true change for the better and that we truly have Kentuckians’ best interest at heart,” Hampton says.
And as for her dream of becoming an astronaut, Hampton says she hasn’t completely given up. The Detroit native grew up watching the NASA moon landings on television and hoped to join the space agency one day. Now, with NASA scaling back its operations, Hampton says she may have to rely on one of the private companies doing rocket launches to fulfill her childhood dream.
“I think I’d get my fix if I could just orbit the Earth once and then come home,” Hampton says.