Hal Heiner and K.C. Crosbie ticket: What it brings and its potential effect on the 2015 field

03/03/2014 01:08 PM

And they’re off.

Louisville developer Hal Heiner and former Lexington Councilwoman K.C. Crosbie will be the first 2015 gubernatorial ticket out of the gate on Tuesday when they make their announcement in Lexington.

Heiner, the 62-year-old former Louisville councilman who narrowly lost the 2010 race for that city’s mayor, has been looking at making a run for governor since last summer. And in Crosbie, he has found a fellow former urban county official between 2007 and 2012.

But Crosbie, 44, also has experience running statewide, having narrowly lost the state treasurer’s race in 2011. Crosbie currently serves as both national committeewoman for the Republican Party of Kentucky – a position she won in the 2012 GOP reorganization convention by defeating incumbent Gale Russell – and as finance chairman for the Republican Party.

Through that position, Crosbie has built up a thick Rolodex of key Republican donors. Coupled with Heiner’s personal wealth, a Heiner-Crosbie ticket likely won’t be hurting for campaign cash. (The state GOP bylaws don’t preclude Crosbie from serving in those capacities while running for an elected office).

And Crosbie’s enthusiastic style contrasts with Heiner’s sometimes more reserved demeanor.

Larry Cox, the Louisville Republican and former state director for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell,

“Hal is the whole package. I’ve always admired him as a very solid person as well as a successful businessman,” Cox said. “When I say Hal is the whole package, he is a very mature individual who has been successful in business and as an elected official.”

Cox said using the word “mature” was not meant as a slap at the Republican who is expected to be Heiner’s chief rival, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer. Cox came out of retirement from government to work in the Ag Department during Comer’s first year in office but retired again last spring. He said Comer is doing “a superb job.”

But he said he has known Heiner longer and believes his ties to business community and approach to public education through his push for charter schools offers the best course for Kentucky.

And he said he considered Heiner’s pick of K.C. Crosbie to only strengthen the ticket, adding someone who has run statewide, knows Kentucky’s second-largest city and offers a strong female voice to the ticket.

The art of making a pick

Brian Crall, the former Republican state representative from Owensboro who considered the governor’s race in 1999 and 2003, said picking a running mate is often over-analyzed by candidates, who look too much at geographic balance or natural constituency groups.

He said several candidates have asked what they should look for in a running mate and he points to the shattered working relationships that litter the road of recent Kentucky history: Paul Patton and Steve Henry, who barely talked by the end of their term, Ernie Fletcher and Steve Pence (Pence ultimately supported Fletcher’s challenger in 2007), and even Gov. Steve Beshear and his first lieutenant governor, Daniel Mongiardo, who parted awkwardly.

“The history of the lieutenant governor and governor relationships has not been particularly great,” Crall said. “So I told them worry less about the electoral dynamics and worry more about the capabilities and character of the person and make sure they’re someone you can partner with.”

Crall said Heiner has talked to “a number of capable people” for that role.

“If he’s come down to K.C., I hope it’s because K.C. shares his views and visions for what direction to take Kentucky,” he said.

Neither Heiner nor Crosbie has commented publicly ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, which is slated for 10 a.m. at Star Manufacturing, a metal stamping company in northeast Lexington.

Mark Stanley, president of Star Manufacturing, said a friend — whom he declined to name — asked him if he would host the event at his facility.

“They wanted a place where they could have a bunch of people meet,” he said. He said he knows Crosbie and her husband, Scott, a former Lexington mayoral candidate who is partner in the firm Crosbie & May in Lexington. Stanley said he didn’t know Heiner.

“I never heard his name until last week,” he said. “I’m not very political.”

Indeed, a search of his political donations shows he has given to four candidates in 15 years, including a district court judge candidate, Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts and two Democrats who won special state Senate elections — Robin Webb in 2009 and Perry Clark in 2006.

The first domino?

But it remains to be seen whether Heiner’s announcement will open the 2015 floodgates of candidates.

It won’t bump up Comer’s decision-making process.

“I wish them the best. But that ticket has no influence whatsoever on my timetable,” Comer told Pure Politics on Monday. (Comer offered more of a jab when asked by Pure Poltiics about the Heiner-Crosbie ticket last month ).

Comer said he still plans to make public his decision in December and said he wasn’t clear to WKBO in Bowling Green late last year when he indicated he would make his decision this spring.

“What I said was that we would start thinking about it in the spring. But if the decision was yes, I wouldn’t enter the race until after the election,” Comer said.

Cathy Bailey, the Louisville philanthropist and former U.S. Ambassador to Latvia, also is looking at running and making calls to Republicans around the state to potentially line up support.

“Kentucky is ready for a positive change and I’m confident that a vision for a brighter future for our great state will eventually be offered,” Bailey said in a statement. “I welcome anyone to be a productive part of that discussion.”

As for Democrats, they seem to have their own timetable. And many Democrats – both prospective candidates and interested observers – seem to be waiting on former auditor Crit Luallen to make her decision first. And she told Pure Politics last week she’s still taking the necessary steps to run.

Picking sides?

This isn’t the first time a Republican candidate has been first to announce for a wide-open governor’s race. In February 2002, Rebecca Jackson, then the Jefferson County judge-executive, was first to form an exploratory committee for the 2003 race. Exploratory committees have since been eliminated from the law forcing candidates to find lieutenant governor candidates to run with them before raising and spending any money.

Republicans say they don’t expect a vibrant primary to divide the party.
“It’s a sign of vitality in our party that we’re going to have what appears to be a number of very qualified candidates for governor in 2015,” said Robertson, the party chairman.

If anything, the early dividing lines between Heiner and Comer are on urban and rural lines, said state Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, who said he intends to stay neutral.

“Right now, Comer would take Jessamine, Garrard and Mercer counties,” he said. “We think we are rural even though we need to drive 50 miles in any direction to cities.”

Ultimately, he said, it will be a popularity contest regardless of how the candidates try to make it about issues.

Tuesday’s event will likely attract both Heiner’s inner circle and curious onlookers who want a front-row seat to the 2015 race for governor.

But Crall, who said he isn’t ready to officially pick a side yet, said while it might not be early for a ticket to announce, it’s still a bit early for many Republicans to gravitate to a candidate or slate.

“What I’m seeing is that a lot of people are keeping their powder dry. For the most part, our commissioner of agriculture has been out and visible and has done a great job. And has been the kind of the presumptive candidate,” Crall said. “But as I hear people, there are strengths to someone from the outside who hasn’t spent the last 10 to 15 years in Frankfort. But people are waiting to see who gets in the race to before gravitation occurs.”


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