Lt. Gov. Coleman stepping down from cabinet secretary role
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said Thursday that she will step down from her second role as a cabinet secretary to focus more attention on the state’s economic development efforts.
Since taking office alongside Gov. Andy Beshear in late 2019, Coleman juggled dual roles as lieutenant governor and secretary of the state’s Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.
Now, the cabinet’s deputy secretary, Mary Pat Regan, will assume the role of acting secretary as Coleman shifts exclusively to her duties as the state’s No. 2 elected official.
“My focus as lieutenant governor and my commitment to the Beshear-Coleman administration remains the same,” Coleman said in a video message during the governor’s news conference. “It will just look a little different as we respond to the demands of a booming economy.”
Beshear’s administration is looking to build on the momentum of landing Kentucky’s single largest-ever economic development project. Ford announced last month that it will build twin battery plants at Glendale in central Kentucky in a $5.8 billion venture with its battery partner, SK Innovation of South Korea, to help power the automaker’s next generation of electric vehicles. The plants will create 5,000 jobs, along with the potential for many more from suppliers.
The Democratic governor has said he will keep Coleman as his running mate when they seek reelection in 2023.
Beshear said Thursday that Kentucky has so many opportunities among business prospects that “we need more than one of me to make sure that we realize every future game changer.”
“She can help in this day-to-day process of making sure that every one of these economic development opportunities, every one of these potentially commonwealth-changing opportunities we’re seeing, that we grasp,” Beshear said.
Coleman pointed to several initiatives during her tenure as cabinet secretary, including waiving the $125 GED testing fee, prioritizing broadband access in reducing the “digital divide” and bolstering the state’s career training network.
The state Republican Party on Thursday pointed to problems with Kentucky’s pandemic-stressed unemployment insurance system in trying to pin the blame on Beshear and Coleman.
The unemployment office had been housed in the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, but Beshear shifted it to the Labor Cabinet early in the pandemic. The governor said at the time that the unemployment office was better aligned with the Labor Cabinet.
Like other states, Kentucky was overwhelmed by record waves of claims for jobless assistance caused by the coronavirus. Tens of thousands of Kentuckians found themselves in limbo for months as they waited for their jobless claims to be processed.
State GOP spokesman Mike Lonergan said Thursday that Coleman was a “focal point” as Beshear’s administration “failed time and time again to fix the problems.”
Neither Beshear nor Coleman mentioned the unemployment system Thursday. The governor has repeatedly pointed to budget and staffing cuts that hobbled the system well before he took office.