Kentucky’s next lt. gov: ex-teacher and education advocate

By BRUCE SCHREINER Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — It’s a role that seems scripted for Lt. Gov.-elect Jacqueline Coleman — as an educator transitioning to the job as a “full partner” in an administration vowing to make public education a top priority.

In the days since Democrat Andy Beshear’s victory in the Kentucky governor’s race, Coleman has said she’ll focus on education and rural economic development in the new administration.

Amid the hubbub of preparing to become lieutenant governor, Coleman is also preparing for another new role — motherhood. She and her husband are expecting a girl in February.

“This is my first pregnancy and it’s my first statewide race, so this is what I know to be normal,” Coleman quipped.

Come Dec. 10, Coleman enters office alongside Beshear, who topped the winning ticket by narrowly defeating the reelection bid of an outspoken Republican whose pension and education proposals had so outraged teachers that they waged sporadic but massive protests in Kentucky during the past two years. Beshear beat Gov. Matt Bevin by a few thousand votes in a red state where Republicans snapped up all the other elected statewide posts in the fall election.

In the days since Beshear’s victory, Coleman has said she’ll make education — along with boosting rural economic development — her priorities in the new administration.

“Our children deserve a top-notch education. It’s time that our educators are treated with respect and, more appropriately, compensated for their dedication to our children,” Coleman said recently.

Teachers staged large demonstrations at Kentucky’s Capitol in Frankfort over the past two years to speak out against pension and education proposals backed by Bevin — part of a national wave of teacher activism.

On the campaign trail, Coleman was instrumental in making a forceful pitch for a key plank in Beshear’s public education plan — a promise to seek a $2,000 pay raise for school teachers, an incentive he says is needed to resolve a statewide teacher shortage. Beshear’s education proposals will compete with other pressing needs, including massive public pension obligations, when the GOP-led legislature puts its imprint on the next state budget.

In a campaign that capitalized on strong support from teachers, Beshear repeatedly touted his running mate’s education credentials.

Coleman was working as assistant principal at Kentucky’s Nelson County High school when she joined Beshear’s campaign. She’s a former teacher and basketball coach. Her husband, Chris O’Bryan, is a high school science teacher and head basketball coach at Frankfort High School in the capital city.

She had a high-profile role in Beshear’s campaign. Coleman showed a knack for delivering political punches during the stump-style speaking at the Fancy Farm picnic, the state’s premier political event that starts general-election campaigning. She also appeared in a TV ad attacking Bevin’s education record that so rankled the outgoing governor that he convened reporters to condemn it as a “scare tactic.”

As lieutenant governor, Coleman is expected to remain highly visible.

“Jacqueline Coleman is a full partner in this administration,” the governor-elect said recently. “Her focus is going to be what she wants her focus to be.”

It’s a sharp contrast to the rocky relationship between the outgoing governor and lieutenant governor, which ultimately ended up in court. Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton sued Bevin for firing her two top assistants and went to court, seeking their reinstatement. A judge in October ruled in Bevin’s favor though Hampton is appealing and the case continues.

Coleman, whose family has deep roots in Kentucky, is no stranger to politics.

Her father, Jack Coleman, was a long-time state representative representing a central Kentucky district. She ran for the same seat in 2014 but was defeated by Republican incumbent Kim King. Coleman’s grandfather was a standout basketball player at the University of Louisville who went on to play in the NBA.

In 2013, Jacqueline Coleman founded a nonprofit, Lead Kentucky, that helps Kentucky college women to seek leadership positions on campus and beyond.

Her role as a working mom will also give her a policy perspective as lieutenant governor, she said.

“Every perspective deserves a seat at the table in Kentucky,” she said. “We don’t have enough women elected to office and an even smaller percentage of them have young children. If our policies should truly represent our priorities, the makeup of our government should, too.”

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