- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear is losing one prominent policymaker in Jerry Abramson but gaining another in naming a new lieutenant governor for his final year in office.

The Democratic governor on Thursday chose former state Auditor Crit Luallen as his new second-in-command. Luallen will complete Abramson’s term as he leaves for a White House job as President Barack Obama’s liaison to state and local governments.

In Luallen, Beshear turned to a state government fixture respected by Democrats and Republicans as a skilled administrator.

“My search for a new lieutenant governor began and ended with Crit Luallen,” Beshear said at the state Capitol announcement. “I wanted someone immensely credible and I needed someone capable of being not just lieutenant governor but being governor.”

The former two-term state auditor will be sworn in at a private ceremony next Thursday. A public ceremony is scheduled the next day.

She’ll return to a familiar setting. She worked for six governors, including stints as budget director and as secretary of the finance and tourism cabinets, Beshear said.

Luallen said her duties will include taking over Abramson’s role of trying to improve Kentucky’s dismal health status.

“It will be my personal goal to help the governor end his term in office with the state in as strong a position as possible,” Luallen said.

Abramson, who ran as Beshear’s running mate in the governor’s 2011 re-election campaign, will draw on his deep experience in state and local government in his White House role.

The former longtime Louisville mayor said he’ll have a hand in helping shape a range of policies, including job creation, education, housing and transportation. He starts his new job Nov. 17, joining an administration that’s deeply unpopular in Kentucky.

“Whether he’s up in the polls or down in the polls, he’s still the president of the United States, will be for the next two-plus years,” Abramson said. “And when he asks you to join his team, it’s pretty hard to say ‘no.’ And it was very easy for me to say ‘yes.’”

Abramson’s selection as a deputy assistant to Obama and director of intergovernmental affairs is a “great honor” for him that can benefit Kentucky, said U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

“We have worked together on important issues impacting the commonwealth, and it is always good to have a Kentuckian in the White House,” McConnell said in a statement.

Another prominent Republican, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, expressed his respect for Luallen and said he looked forward to working with her.

Earlier this year, Luallen ruled out a run in next year’s wide-open race for governor. She reaffirmed Thursday that she was sticking by that decision. Kentucky governors are limited to two terms, and Beshear is in his second.

Abramson took on several roles in Beshear’s administration. He headed a study group on state tax reform. He was active in efforts to recruit business to Kentucky and boost the number of high school graduates attending college.

One of Abramson’s duties in the White House will be to help coordinate with states on the upcoming second open enrollment under the federal health care law.

“It’s definitely a new adventure with a new role and a real opportunity,” Abramson said.

Beshear has embraced the health-care law but has been critical of the president’s environment policies and their effect on Kentucky coal. The governor said having Abramson working in Obama’s administration would be a boost for the state.

“This opens up a pathway for us we haven’t had before,” Beshear said.


Associated Press Writer Brett Barrouquere in Louisville contributed to this report.

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