Former Kentucky Gov. Julian Carroll dies at age 92

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Former Kentucky Gov. Julian Carroll, who led efforts to improve public schools and modernize the state’s judicial system in the 1970s — and who later rekindled his political career as a state legislator — died Sunday, his family said. He was 92.

Carroll ascended to the governorship during an era when Bluegrass State governors still dominated the legislative agenda, enabling him to shape a wide spectrum of Kentucky policies. But his administration later became tainted by a kickback scandal that engulfed a former state Democratic Party chairman.

Carroll, a Democrat, served as governor from 1974 to 1979 and made a successful comeback in 2004 when he was elected as a state senator.

“As a family, it is with the heaviest of hearts that we grieve the loss of our beloved father, grandfather and great-grandfather,” his family said in a statement. “His steadfast faith and positive outlook on life … and constant love for his family and his giving heart and warm embrace will forever be missed.”

Kentucky’s current Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, said in a social media post that Carroll “dedicated his career to public service. For decades he worked to support public education and those he represented in Frankfort.”

In his tribute to Carroll, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican, said that “few will have a career as distinguished as his.” Kentucky House Speaker David Osborne, also a Republican, offered “deepest sympathies” to Carroll’s family and noted the former governor’s decades long political life.

“May his family find comfort in that service,” Osborne said in a statement.

Carroll served five terms in the Kentucky House, including a stint as House speaker from 1968 to 1970. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1971 and ascended to the governorship in December 1974 when Gov. Wendell Ford resigned to take a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Running a year later as an incumbent, a rarity in a time when Kentucky governors were barred from succeeding themselves, Carroll easily won election to a full term of his own.

He governed during a time of prosperity. An oil embargo by Arab countries triggered a boom in the coal industry, and Carroll’s administration was awash in money from the coal severance tax.

Carroll led the push to eliminate the private bail bond system and the state invested heavily in teacher salaries and provided free textbooks. He established a School Building Authority to help poor school districts build new schools. Vocational and special education systems were also bolstered.

The state parks systems expanded under his leadership, too, and Kentucky strengthened fire-safety laws following the deadly blaze that tore through the Beverly Hills Supper Club in northern Kentucky.

Carroll took on a national leadership role as chairman of the National Governors Association.

But his administration was scarred by a federal grand jury investigation after he left office. The investigation led to the indictment of the former chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party, Howard “Sonny” Hunt, on 22 counts for his alleged participation in a fraud scheme involving workers compensation insurance. Hunt pleaded guilty and served time in prison. Carroll was never charged.

After leaving office in 1979, Carroll opened a law practice. He attempted a comeback in 1987 but finished far behind in the crowded Democratic gubernatorial primary. A few decades later in 2004, he won a seat in the Kentucky Senate, where he served until 2020. His booming voice became a staple during debates.

Julian Morton Carroll, a native of McCracken County in western Kentucky, was born on April 16, 1931, the third of 11 children born to Elvie Buster and Eva Heady Carroll. He served as an Air Force attorney for three years after graduating from the University of Kentucky law school in 1956.

In 1960, Carroll led a a public referendum campaign to allow the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide electricity to McCracken County. The referendum, which led to lower electric costs, passed overwhelmingly, a success that set the stage for Carroll’s long political career.

His wife, Charlann Harting Carroll, died in 2014 at the age of 81 after more than 60 years of marriage.

Funeral arrangements for the former governor were pending, his family said.

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