Gatewood Galbraith dies overnight, leaves a legacy as one of a kind

01/04/2012 09:26 AM

Former candidate for governor Gatewood Galbraith passed away in his sleep, confirmed Dea Riley who ran as the lieutenant governor candidate with Galbraith in 2011. He was 64.

Galbraith had been battling emphysema and had come down with a bad cold in recent days, Riley said.

“It’s going to be a different world without Gatewood Galbraith. It’s a loss. There is no doubt about it,” Riley said.

Galbraith and Riley ran as independents and finished the three-way gubernatorial race in third with less than 10 percent of the vote. It was Galbraith’s fifth run for governor since 1991.

Galbraith, a defense attorney by trade, was perhaps equally known for his trademark wide-brimmed hats, his folksy campaigning style and his longstanding support of legalizing marijuana.

But what many people didn’t know is what Galbraith did for his fellow Kentuckians away from the cameras and courtrooms, Riley said.

“Every Sunday, Gatewood would seek out homeless people and provide for them,” she said. “He’d go to homeless shelters and find people who had slept on the street and give them money. That’s what Gatewood did every single Sunday — before he had his coffee.”

Politically, Galbraith mixed a libertarian streak with some progressive views. And he packaged it up with clever lines and a quick wit.

During the 2011 governor’s race, he often said he was a member of the tea party movement long before it stormed into the political scene in 2009 and 2010.

Indeed, in a 1991 interview during his first run for governor, Galbraith said government sometimes infringes on people’s rights, especially when it comes to regulating natural substances like marijuana.

“I think that we ought to be left alone by government to be allowed to indulge in our own choices about what we want to ingest and what we don’t,” he said at the time.

He advocated for marijuana to be legalized and regulated the way alcohol or tobacco is.

“I think Gatewood was the first wave of independents. He was the founding member of the independent movement,” Riley said.

Gov. Steve Beshear issued a statement saying he and first lady Jane Beshear were “shocked and saddened” to learn of Galbraith’s death.

“He was a gutsy, articulate and passionate advocate who never shied away from a challenge or potential controversy,” Beshear said. “His runs for office prove he was willing to do more than just argue about the best direction for the state – he was willing to serve, and was keenly interested in discussing issues directly with our citizens. He will be missed.”

Republican Senate President David Williams, who also ran against Beshear and Galbraith last year, called Galbraith a friend — someone he had known since their days at the University of Kentucky.

“I was saddened to hear about Gatewood’s passing. He and I have been friends for almost four decades. His wit, humor, and intellect made him one of the most intriguing of Kentucky originals,” Williams said in a statement.

In addition to the five runs for governor, Galbraith also ran for attorney general in 2003 and for Congress in 2000.

His highest percentage of the vote in any race came in 1999 when he garnered 15.3 percent of the vote as a Reform Party candidate in a three way race for governor against incumbent Democratic Gov. Paul Patton and Republican Peppy Martin.

That was the best finish for a Reform Party candidate besides Ross Perot and former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. And Galbraith was asked to speak at the party’s 2000 national convention.

“In this day and age, where the Democrat and Republican parties are no longer the voice of Main Street, but the puppets of Wall Street, it is natural that a third party should appear to champion the traditionally conservative proposition that the constitution is the blueprint for the operation of the government of the United States,” Galbraith said in his remarks.

In 2004, he published his autobiography “The Last Free Man in America: Meets the Synthetic Subversion” in which he chronicled his childhood in Nicholas County, his war protesting as a University of Kentucky student, his friendship with Willie Nelson and his reasons for wanting to serve in elected office.

Galbraith went through personal struggles, as he briefly mentioned in the book — such as two bankruptcies and hitting bottom by having to sleep in his car.

But Galbraith wrote in his sometimes self-deprecating style that he always maintained an optimism that motivated him even through what he called his own failings.

“An examination of my own life in detail minute enough to try and explain my past actions, intimate and otherwise, has, until recently, been discomforting to me,” he wrote. “The Good Lord knows that I’ve made more than my share of mistakes. In fact, if trial and error is the best teacher, I ought to be the smartest guy around.”

Galbraith is survived by his three daughters.

You can watch his last interview on Pure Politics from May here:

Part 2 of that interview:

Part 1 of his interview from April 7:

Part 2 of that interview:


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.