Trey Grayson takes Harvard job, governor picks Bowling Green mayor as Secretary of State

01/07/2011 01:38 PM

UPDATED — Secretary of State Trey Grayson confirmed he will leave office at the end of the month to become director of the Harvard University Institute of Politics, allowing Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear to appoint a successor.

Little more than an hour after Grayson’s resignation was confirmed, Beshear called a press conference to name Bowling Green Mayor Elaine Walker to the post. Walker currently serves as president of the Kentucky League of Cities.

Trey Grayson announced he will be director of the Harvard University Institute of Politics

Grayson, a Republican, will leave office during the last year of his second and final term as Secretary of State, which is responsible for overseeing election activities and handling business filings with the state.

Walker had been interested in running for the office and had been making calls seeking support, said Democratic state Rep. Jody Richards of Bowling Green.

During the announcement of her appointment, she said she would file later this month to run in the 2011 election for a full-term.

“This constitutional office is too important to the citizens of this state to allow any delay in appointing a new leader,” Beshear said in a statement.  “Therefore, I am excited to announce that Elaine has accepted this position and agreed to bring the skills and commitment she has shared with the people of Bowling Green to Frankfort.  I am confident that she will be an excellent leader for our state.”

Grayson said it could be politically risky for Beshear to choose among Democrats who are considering running for that office this year.

So far, no other Democrats had officially announced their intent or filed to run for Secretary of State, although a handful of names had been mentioned as prospective candidates (See names later in the article). Only Republican Bill Johnson officailly has filed for the race.

The filing deadline for candidates to enter races for statewide office, including Secretary of State is Jan. 25.

Grayson said Beshear could have chosen a well-qualified person who is not looking to run for the job to fill out the remainder of the term. He said he suggested to Beshear that he appoint Mary Sue Helm, a longtime employee of the Secretary of State’s office who currently serves as elections administrator.

Grayson said his first day at Harvard will be Jan. 31. He said his last day as Secretary of State will likely be Friday, Jan. 28.

Caroline Kennedy, a board member and daughter of President John F. Kennedy, announced Grayson’s appointment Friday afternoon.  Harvard established the institute as part of the Kennedy School of Government in 1966 as a memorial to the late president.

Grayson spoke to Pure Politics about the new job and the process to replace him:

(Programming note: Tune into Pure Politics Friday night at 7 p.m. for more on this story, including Grayson talking about how this move affects his plans to return to Kentucky politics. And For those who are wondering about the bandage on Grayson’s face in the video, he said he had a mole removed last week.)

In making the move to Harvard, Grayson will return to his alma mater and take charge of an institute that fits with his agenda during his seven years as Secretary of State.

“Trey Grayson is a very accomplished and distinguished public servant with an impressive track record in elective office,” said David T. Ellwood, dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “His knowledge and experience on the state and national levels will provide the institute with fresh and vigorous leadership at a time when many young people are becoming engaged with politics for the first time.”

The institute conducts research on young people’s political engagement and coordinates fellowships and internships for students interested in policy and politics. The institute also runs training for new members elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and coordinates the National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement with colleges around the country.

Grayson pushed for “civic literacy” among Kentucky students throughout his tenure.

His efforts and demeanor have won him bipartisan praise.

Democratic Party Chairman Daniel Logsdon issued a statement after the announcement complimenting the “commendable and honorable manner” in which he served.

“Under his tenure, Kentucky’s elections were professional, efficient and trustworthy,” Logsdon said. “I’m sure that he will excel in his new position at Harvard University in the same way he has in Kentucky.”

Grayson graduated from Harvard in 1994. He has been a member of the Institute of Politics’ advisory board, whose ranks also include Caroline Kennedy, U.S. Sen. John Kerry and Elaine Chao, the former U.S. Secretary of Labor and wife of Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Grayson said he was offered the job by the board just before Christmas. He replaces interim director John C. Culver, a former U.S. Senator from Iowa. Culver took the helm of the institute July 1 after the departure of director Bill Purcell.

A search firm contacted Grayson – in the capacity of being a board member – while searching for a replacement last summer, which was after Grayson lost the May primary for U.S. Senate. He said he mentioned that he might be interested.

He said he attended two interviews late last year, one on campus and one in New York before being offered the position.

Grayson, 38, was once considered one of the Kentucky Republicans’ brightest young stars before his political career ran into the buzz saw of Rand Paul’s campaign in last year’s 2010 GOP primary for U.S. Senate.

Grayson’s departure will leave Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer as the only Republican statewide office-holder. Farmer is term limited and is running for lieutenant governor on the GOP ticket with gubernatorial candidate David Williams.

The field of Secretary of State candidates is far from set.

Aside from Walker, others being mentioned on the Democratic side are state Auditor Crit Luallen; Lexington lawyer Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is daughter of former Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan, and state Rep. Rick Nelson of Middlesboro; and former Democratic Party Chairman Jennifer Moore, among others.

Moore said Friday afternoon that with a full schedule because of her law practice, she “is not seeking office this year, nor would I accept an appointment to an office.”

“I think Gov. Steve Beshear made an excellent decision in selecting Elaine Walker,” she said.

On the Republican side, former U.S. Department of Agriculture official Hilda Legg and Garrard County Judge-Executive John Wilson are still considering joining Johnson, a Todd County businessman, in the race.

As for Grayson’s political future, he left open the possibility of returning to Kentucky to run for office again, although he noted that he made at least a five-year commitment to Harvard. He also said the position at Harvard has been a springboard for others to land top-level cabinet positions in Washington:

- Ryan Alessi

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