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Kentucky Public Radio Voter Guide: Attorney General

On left man in dark suit with American flag and blue background. On left, woman in red suit with tan background.
Provided
Former U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman and Democratic Ky. Rep. Pamela Stevenson.

Kentucky's attorney general is often called the state's chief law enforcement officer. The AG plays an important role in overseeing the state's prosecutorial system, and defending state laws.

Since current GOP Attorney General Daniel Cameron decided to run for governor, the race is open and either candidate is eligible to serve for two four-year terms.

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Provided
Russell Coleman

Russell Coleman

Republican

Age: 47

Residence: Crestwood

Occupation: Attorney

Previous elected/government experience: Former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky. Former legal counsel for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell. Former special agent, FBI. Former employee, U.S. Dept. of Justice. Volunteer Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney, Oldham County.

Campaign website: rcforag.com

Coleman declined to be interviewed for this voter guide.

Why he’s running

On the campaign trail, Coleman has cited his desire to return to law enforcement as a driving factor in his decision to run for office.

In a September edition of the Kentucky Youth Advocates podcast “Making Kids Count,” Coleman said being the attorney general is "a calling."

"I was asked that standard question that comes up so oftentimes: ‘Why are you running?’ Well, I’m running because this job is the intersection of two of my great loves and callings in life," he said, adding that his "two loves" are his love of law enforcement and his love of Kentucky.

“My prayer is that when I leave office, if privileged to serve … this commonwealth and its families are safer and have an opportunity to flourish in a degree that wasn’t present when I take the oath, full stop,” he said.

Working with the governor's office

When Kentucky’s attorney general and governor are from different political parties, it has become common for them to face off in lawsuits over state policy issues. Coleman could end up in that position if he wins and Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear gets reelected.

In an interview on WKYT in May, journalist Bill Bryant asked Coleman what his relationship with Beshear would look like if that happens.

“There has to be a degree of engagement, whether it’s the mayor of the city of Louisville who’s a Democrat or the governor of the commonwealth,” Coleman said. “On these issues that matter, there has to be a practical degree of engagement. That said, I’ll enforce the law.”

“The first duty of the attorney general of this commonwealth is to enforce the law as passed by the General Assembly,” he continued. “I don’t want to predict where the conflict will be, but I’ll enforce the law.”

The opioid epidemic

Coleman highlighted the opioid epidemic as a top issue of concern for him and has expressed support for law enforcement efforts to crack down on drug trafficking.

In a July 2022 interview on WVLK, he said a superpower of the attorney general’s office is the “power of the table” — meaning the ability to bring together law enforcement agencies from different jurisdictions to coordinate and collaborate.

But law enforcement is just one part of the solution, according to Coleman. Drug use prevention and treatment efforts are important, too.

“I’m a prosecutor. My focus is enforcement. But to successfully push back on the drug epidemic, it must be a three-legged stool,” he said recently on the “Making Kids Count” podcast. “Prevention, enforcement and treatment.”

Abortion

Coleman has said it would be his duty to defend Kentucky's near-total ban on abortion. But he also has said he supports adding exceptions in cases of rape and incest, which aren’t currently included in the law.

“While I will enforce the law as passed by the General Assembly — that’s the job … I am pro-life, but I support the exceptions for rape and for incest,” he said recently on Spectrum News 1. “And I would ask — call on — the General Assembly to take a hard look at that issue.”

Coleman supported Amendment 2, a proposed, anti-abortion amendment to Kentucky’s Constitution that voters defeated last year.

Environmental policy

In the May interview on WKYT, Coleman said he’d spent more time discussing the attorney general’s involvement in overseeing Kentucky utility rates than any other issue since he launched his campaign.

He said coal has long given Kentucky a competitive edge in terms of economic development, and he’d argue some people are pushing for Kentucky to transition too quickly away from it to other sources of energy.

“I’m a sportsman. I love the environment. I want to protect (and) be a steward of our commonwealth for our kids,” he said. “But I’m very concerned that we’re pushing to a point that we’ll not have that competitive advantage in this commonwealth any longer.”

Woman in red suit smiles at camera, tan background
Provided
Pamela Stevenson

State Rep. Pam Stevenson

Party: Democratic

Age: 64

Residence: Louisville

Occupation: State representative, attorney, Baptist minister.

Previous elected/government experience: State representative (2021-present). Retired colonel and JAG Corps attorney, U.S. Air Force.

Campaign website: pamforag.com

Rep. Stevenson sat down for an interview for this voter guide. Excerpts are included below.

Why she’s running

Stevenson said Gov. Andy Beshear asked her to run for attorney general. She prayed on it before she agreed.

“For me, it's a matter of what my mom and my dad always taught me: You've got to make your community better,” she said.

“If I am elected, we will return that office back to the people. We will take the politics out of it and make sure that every Kentucky family can thrive … And the reason why I'm uniquely qualified is because I've done legal work internationally, nationally, statewide and locally.”

“I am a quilter,” she continued. “And when I quilt, I use thread to bind pieces of fabric together to make a beautiful collage — so when you see it, feel it, you have a visceral reaction. As an attorney general, I am the thread that's going to bind the communities together, the counties together, the commonwealth’s attorneys together, the nonprofits together, the people together — so we can create a beautiful Kentucky where families thrive.”

The opioid epidemic

Stevenson said communicating with individual communities is vital because the state government doesn’t have all the answers on this issue.

Her initial priority will be to do a listening tour as attorney general.

“Opioids have impacted each county differently. I live in Jefferson [County]. I don't know how it impacted Pulaski [County]. I need to ask: ‘What do you need?’ And then, together, we can fashion a plan that will satisfy the needs of the community,” she said.

“We will make decisions together … But we're going to make decisions with the welfare of people at the center of the decision, and not, ‘Will it save money? Will it get me reelected?’”

Abortion

Stevenson supports abortion rights and says most Kentuckians do too, pointing to voters’ defeat last year of Amendment 2, a proposed amendment that would have declared that Kentucky’s Constitution does not protect a right to abortion.

“The state of Kentucky has spoken,” she said. “And the government is supposed to be for the people, by the people, to serve the people. Not live the people's lives, not tell the people what to do.”

She said she has supported women’s rights “my whole life.”

In a statement, Stevenson said prosecuting alleged violations of Kentucky’s abortion ban would not be a priority for her as attorney general.

“The resources in the AG’s office are about keeping people safe, not prosecuting health care providers,” she said.

She said she plans to use her “prosecutorial discretion as AG to focus on the cases that matter most to Kentuckians and keep Kentucky and Kentucky families moving forward.”

Working with the governor's office

When Kentucky’s attorney general and governor are from different political parties, it has become common for them to face off in lawsuits over state policy issues. Stevenson could end up in that position if she wins and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron defeats Beshear for the governorship.

Stevenson said she’ll always try to talk to people. And she indicated she doesn’t want to devote government resources to repeated legal battles with the governor. She emphasized her desire to “take the politics out of” the attorney general’s office.

“If we're going to return this office back to the people, I hope I'm never able to make a commercial that says, ‘I sued the governor 27 times.’ Because those are resources that were not used to protect the disabled or the elderly,” she said.

Environmental policy

Stevenson said she has some experience with environmental law from her service as a JAG in the Air Force.

“Something is happening to our environment that we have to be responsible for. It's not an ‘either/or,’ it's an ‘and.’ How do we protect Mother Earth and make sure that animals and humans have a planet to live on and also allow people to live? It can be done. No one's showing me anything that says it can't be done,” she said.

“And I just think we owe it to ourselves — we owe it to the next generation, we owe it to the people that are going to go through the next pandemic — to get better, be better, when it comes to the environment.”

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Morgan is LPM's health reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.