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  • Joe Graviss

Legislative Update - Kentucky's Governor

Kentucky Governor's Mansion

Hi everybody,

As we wait for the November 14th recanvass of last week’s election for governor, it’s worth taking a moment to look back at the history of state government’s chief executive.

Close to 60 people have served in that role since Kentucky became our country’s 15th state in 1792.  During those earliest years, it was electors, not voters, who decided who would be governor, mirroring a process still used to choose our presidents.

That power was handed back to the people when the commonwealth’s second constitution was adopted in 1799, and it remains in place in our fourth and current state constitution, which took effect in 1891.

That document’s guidelines call for the newly elected governor to be officially sworn into office on the fifth Tuesday after the election, which is Dec. 10th this year.  

Tradition calls for a delegation of Frankfort residents to deliver country ham, beaten biscuits and white cake to the Governor’s Mansion on that day, furthering a trend that began more than a century ago when an outgoing First Lady left behind a meal for the incoming governor and his family.

Building that home’s predecessor was one of the General Assembly’s first acts back in the 1790s.  That building is now known as the Old Governor’s Mansion, and it was completed in 1798, pre-dating the White House by two years.  The current Governor’s Mansion, located next to the Capitol, had its first residents in 1914.

While the governor is often the most well-known official in the state, the truth is that only a few of our past leaders are remembered beyond the counties named in their honor.

One of the more well-known is our first – and fifth – governor, Isaac Shelby.  He was a well-regarded war hero, serving in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.  He even led the Kentucky militia in battle while governor, a move that earned him a Congressional Gold Medal.

Though he spent eight years as governor, it did not appear to leave a lasting impression on him, because he dedicated all of one line in his autobiography to that time in his life.  Another interesting side note is that his eldest daughter, one of 11 children, married Dr. Ephraim McDowell, the father of abdominal surgery whose statue is one of the five in the Capitol Rotunda.

Kentucky’s second governor, James Garrard, was the first to serve two consecutive terms – and the last for a long time because of a change in the state constitution.  It wasn’t until voters amended that in 1992 that a governor could run for re-election, a provision that enabled Governor Paul Patton to serve again in 1999.

Our third governor, Christopher Greenup, was one of Kentucky’s two original members to the U.S. House of Representatives, and the fourth, Charles Scott, was George Washington’s chief of intelligence.  Another early one, George Madison, was a cousin of President James Madison and was also the first of five Kentucky governors to die in office.

While most of our governors were attorneys, there have been a couple of physicians, a teacher and a journalist, but only one – Governor Martha Layne Collins – who was a woman.  The longest stretch between terms, meanwhile, easily belongs to Governor James B. McCreary.  He was first elected in 1875 while in his thirties and again in 1911, when he was 73.

Overall, well over a dozen governors are buried in the Frankfort cemetery that overlooks the Capitol, while only five are buried outside of the Commonwealth.

With that in mind, Governor Simon Bolivar Buckner’s life truly came full circle.  He died in the very same room he had been born in 91 years earlier.

As for now, this year’s race for governor will clear its next, and perhaps final, hurdle this week when a recanvass of votes is conducted. If the current margin of victory holds and is unchallenged, Gov.-elect Andy Beshear will take office next month and begin preparing for next year’s legislative session, which starts in January.

I’ll of course keep you posted as that process moves forward.  If you have thoughts or concerns about this or other issues, please let me know.  My email is, and you can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

Thanks for all you do and holler anytime.

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