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1991-09-20 Interview with Carolyn L. Kenton, September 20, 1991 Leg001:1991OH361LEG33 00:52:41 Kentucky Legislature Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries Legislators -- Kentucky -- Interviews. Women legislators -- Kentucky -- Interviews. Practice of law -- Kentucky. Political campaigns -- Kentucky. Kentucky. General Assembly -- Reform. Kenton, William G. Council of State Government Louisville (Ky.) Lexington (Ky.) Kenton, Bill (Boom Boom) constiuency concerns role of legislator law school University of Kentucky Term/District: House (1982-1984), 75th district Counties in District: Fayette County (Ky.) Carolyn L. Kenton; interviewee Judy K. Bowen; interviewer 1991OH361_LEG033_Kenton 1:|18(16)|37(3)|59(2)|75(3)|101(6)|118(14)|130(10)|145(7)|160(1)|179(4)|209(13)|233(5)|250(15)|264(10)|282(5)|302(8)|315(12)|328(1)|340(9)|358(2)|367(3)|393(8)|410(9)|428(3)|442(11)|453(6)|470(7)|482(15)|495(15)|504(14)|519(2)|539(3)|549(11)|563(17)|573(2)|583(12)|591(9)|609(4)|626(16)|635(6)|647(1)|662(12)|673(3)|697(1)|704(9)|712(9)|723(3)|735(9)|756(6)|770(14)|781(16)|790(14) audiotrans Legit interview BOWEN: Okay. The following is an unrehearsed interview with former State Representative Carolyn Kenton who represented the 75th District in 1982 and 1984. The interview is being conducted by Judy Bowen for the University of Kentucky Library Kentucky Legislative Oral History Project on September the 20th at her office in Lexington, Kentucky at around two p.m. Mrs. Kenton, could you tell me when and where you were born? KENTON: I was born in Louisville, Kentucky in, on March 18, 1941. BOWEN: Okay. Could you tell me your parents' names and what they did for a living? KENTON: My father was Don Godfrey Lips. He was a graduate of the University of Louisville in engineering, the Speed Engineering School, but he ran his own construction company. My mother was Laura Emily Van Winkle Lips and she was a housewife although she had a history degree from the University of Louisville. BOWEN: Did she ever work outside of the home or anything with her degree, in relation to her degree? KENTON: She graduated in the middle of the Depression and worked as a recreation worker when she got out of school and after her children were all in school, or, she had a much younger child from the ones, from the three oldest and she taught school for a while after he went into school. BOWEN: Okay. Do you remember your grandparents at all? KENTON: My, yes, I had, my father's parents were both living at the time that I was born and my mother's mother was living and I remember both of them. My grandmother on my mother's side had come from Owensboro, Henderson actually and she lived until I was about twelve and my grandparents on my father's side were both immigrants, one from Switzerland and one from Germany and they lived until I was about twelve and fourteen. BOWEN: Okay. Do you know what they did for a living? KENTON: My paternal grandfather was an elevator operator or maintenance man and my maternal grandfather was a postal carrier. BOWEN: And how far back do your roots in Kentucky go? KENTON: Depends on which side of the family (both laugh). BOWEN: So, on your father's side- KENTON: My father was first generation American. My mother's family is, my, I am a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution through my mother's side of the family, so her family extends back to early days in Kentucky and in Virginia. BOWEN: Okay. How many people were in your immediate family? KENTON: I have two brothers and a sister. BOWEN: I do too (both laugh), exactly. How extensive was your kinship network in Kentucky? On your father's side it was pretty short back then(??) but on your mother's side was it very extensive? KENTON: Oh yes, I was reared by four mothers. My mother was the youngest of six children. I had, she had, two brothers and four sisters in that sequence and the four girls all lived in Louisville, which is where I was born, and they shared equally in my rearing so we had a very extensive family network there. BOWEN: What do you remember most about your childhood when you were growing up? KENTON: I guess my family. My family was very intimately involved in our activities. We saw them on at least a weekly basis if not on a daily basis. My, I had an aunt who lived across the street from me who was married and had children and my other two aunts were unmarried schoolteachers and came by and participated in family life in almost a daily basis and I would say that that was probably the leading influence on my life. BOWEN: Okay. Where did you go to school? KENTON: I was reared in Louisville and attended the public schools there- BOWEN: Okay. KENTON: graduating from Atherton(??) High School. BOWEN: And do you remember some of your teachers? KENTON: Well, it's been a long time (laughs). No, I can't say that I can tell you the names of any of the teachers right off hand. BOWEN: Okay. Do you remember what your favorite subjects were in high school, in junior high and grade school? KENTON: Probably literature, history and government, and music. I sang with the chorus most of the time that I was in school. BOWEN: Okay. Did you have a civic course when you were in high school or junior high? KENTON: Oh yes. We had civics courses in junior high and high school. BOWEN: I did too. Did you have a favorite book when you were growing up or a favorite author? KENTON: I read everything I could get my hands on including a lot of history about the early settlement of Kentucky. I read a lot of historical novels. Growing up in Louisville, which had an extensive public library system, was very fortunate. I could walk to the public library branch and you were limited to five books a week and I would usually read five books a week. BOWEN: We didn't have a public library in my county. I grew up in Martin, so we had to, my parents had to buy my books so I limited to two books a week (both laugh), was all I could have because we had, eventually with four children you had very different reading interests. We ended up with a huge amount of books and nowhere to fit them- KENTON: Sure. BOWEN: at the end of like ten or fifteen years. Since you read a lot of history did you have a favorite historical figure? KENTON: No, not particularly. I guess I read all history, but not only American history and Kentucky history, but I've read history of Russia, history of Europe, history of England. It has been a fascinating subject to me all of my life. My mother was a history major which may have influenced my interest. As I had mentioned earlier she was interested in historical societies and I participated with her and her sisters and my sister and cousins in the historical activities through the DAR and other similar organizations, and so we did genealogical searches which involved visiting cemeteries and seeing a lot what life was like so that has been a major influence. BOWEN: Okay. And you said you were involved in choir when you were in high school, were you involved in any other extracurricular activities such as speech or debate, any of those types of things? KENTON: Yes, I did participate in those kinds of activities. They did not have quite as extensive programs for those activities as they perhaps have now. Debate was not something that was encouraged for a woman at that time. Speech and drama was really a competing activity with the choral activities. It was difficult to do that as you only have one extra hour for those kind of activities (laughs) in your school situation. So I did, when I came to the University at Kentucky here in Lexington, I was involved in the music department and in the musical theater area and did participate with those activities there. BOWEN: Okay. When you were growing up did, was church a big part of your life? KENTON: Yes. BOWEN: It was? Okay. And what church did you attend? KENTON: I am a member of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ and my family were all very involved churchgoers. My maternal great grandfather was a Baptist preacher and there was a very strong religious emphasis in my home. BOWEN: Do you think that your religious upbringing had any influence on your political views? KENTON: Only to the extent that as Christians we were taught to treat people as though we should be treated ourselves and there was an emphasis on equality of opportunity and within that context it did. It did not have any particular influence on my choice of political party or politics like that. BOWEN: You said you attended the University of Kentucky. Why did you choose the University of Kentucky as your university? KENTON: It was cheap (laughs); it was a good school (laughs). The University of Louisville was a municipal school at the time that I was in school. I was the third child to go to college and the university offered and excellent university education and as a state supported school it was an excellent place to matriculate. At the time it was about the same size as the regional universities are now; it wasn't nearly as large and impersonal as it is now. And, of course, the regional universities were focused toward teaching and I was not interested in teaching. BOWEN: Okay. What was your major and minor in college? KENTON: I was a political science major (both laugh). BOWEN: Surprise! And do have a minor, and did you have a minor? KENTON: No, not that I recall. I think that with the general studies that I didn't have anything that was specifically focused as a minor. BOWEN: Okay. Do you recall some of your more memorable college professors or did any of them make an impact on you? KENTON: Oh, certainly. Dr. Jewell was one of my professors. I guess he was newly on the staff at the time that I was in college- BOWEN: What years were you in college? KENTON: Sidney Ulmer was there. I graduated in 1963. BOWEN: Oh, he'd been there, I think he came like 1955 or '56, Dr. Jewell, I'm not really sure. KENTON: Well, see, I started in '59, so I graduated in '63 but I started in '59 so he'd only been there- BOWEN: a couple of years. KENTON: Um-hm. BOWEN: But he's still very active too- KENTON: Yes. BOWEN: published another book this year- KENTON: Yeah, yeah. BOWEN: almost every year we're expecting something new from him, like a book. Do you think that any of your professors made an impact on your political philosophies or your- KENTON: Well, they certainly made an impact on my choice of major. It was after I had taken a political science course then I decided to choose that as a major area, and as a matter of fact, my father wasn't particularly thrilled with the idea because as a hard sciences major he didn't think there was anything particular scientific about political science, but I chose that anyway. BOWEN: What were some of your more interesting college classes? KENTON: Well, it would be hard to say, I don't know that I, probably the ones that, aside from my major courses, I would think that the ones that were more interesting to me were the ones that were in sociology and communication. Obviously, I thought political science was the most interesting because that was what I chose as my major. BOWEN: You have a law degree, correct? KENTON: I also have a master's in political sciences. BOWEN: Master's in political sciences and a law degree? KENTON: Um-hm. BOWEN: Okay, where did you go to law school? KENTON: I went to law school at the University of Kentucky. BOWEN: Okay. And did you, why did you choose that particular law school? KENTON: Well, I went to law school later in life. I actually decided to attend law school after my husband's death. And I decided to go back to school because I felt that I needed to have a career preparation which I had not had prior to his death. I chose the University of Kentucky because I lived in Lexington and I had two children that I had to take care of and that was the most practical way to arrange the schooling. BOWEN: Okay. And you received your master's degree in political sciences from the University of Kentucky also? KENTON: Yes. BOWEN: Okay. And would you say that you being a woman in law school is that different than the other students? KENTON: Not at the time that I attended. My husband graduated from law school in 1966 and at the time that he graduated he had a class of, oh perhaps, they maybe had a class of fifty students, perhaps, and of that number there were only two or three who were women. By the time I went to law school and graduated in 1985 the class of 100 had fifty women in it and so there have been some substantial or major changes in access to the legal education by women by the time I actually attended myself. BOWEN: Okay. And- KENTON: One of the reasons that I didn't go to law school originally was that it was not an option in graduate level or it was not as encouraged an option on the graduate level for women as it was for men. Had it been a different situation, had it, had I'd been twenty years younger I might have gone into law school instead of into a master's program. BOWEN: Um-hm. And between the time that you received your master's degree and the time you went back to law school what did you- KENTON: What did I do? BOWEN: (laughs) professionally between then? KENTON: Well, I married and had two children and worked fulltime at various and sundry jobs, the longest period of time for the Council of State Governments which is a private research and information referral organization that's funded by the various organizations in state government and I was in the research department there working with writing monographs, doing research, and doing research or information and referral activities. BOWEN: Okay. And since you received your law degree have you practiced law? KENTON: Yes. I worked as a clerk for Judge Meade for several months while I was awaiting the results of the bar and then worked as a part-time prosecutor with the county attorney's office and then practiced in a private practice for about two and a half years before I moved into my current position which is a trust officer for Commerce National Bank. BOWEN: Okay. And how many children, you have two children, right? KENTON: I have two children. BOWEN: And do you have any grandchildren? KENTON: No, thank heavens! I have a twenty-year old and a fifteen-year old, that's much too soon. BOWEN: I hope not (both laugh). I wasn't sure how old they were, but I hope not in that case. Okay. What and how did you become interested in politics? KENTON: Oh, I was interested in politics from the time I was very young. My mother was not only interested in genealogy and historical activities but she had inherited an interest in politics from her father who was a Republican precinct officer in Louisville and she served also as a Republican precinct officer and I assisted her in purging the precinct and doing registration in Dwight Eisenhower's 1956 reelection campaign and so I came by an interest in government and government process very early and very thoroughly. BOWEN: Definitely. Since your husband was a member of the General Assembly for so long do you think that had any influence on your political beliefs or your interest in politics or did you have that throughout your life on an equal- KENTON: Well, Bill Kenton and I met as political science students at the university. As a matter of fact our courtship began when we had an eleven o'clock class together and a one o'clock class together the same days of the week and he took me out to lunch three days a week on "Happy" Chandler's campaign money (Bowen laughs). He was the statewide youth chairman for "Happy" campaign, "Happy" Chandler in the 1962- '63 gubernatorial campaign so he did a little recruiting of his own. He not only assisted me in learning the science of politics but taught me a whole lot about the art of politics. BOWEN: Did you find that being married to a member of the General Assembly, did he come home, when he came home did he discuss things that were going on in the Assembly with you and asked your opinions on it? And did you find that being married to a person in that position gave you influence in some of the ways that he thought and maybe sort of the way that he voted by virtue of being married and discussing things? KENTON: Bill was a consummate politician. He had been a politician, I guess, from the say he was born. He was reared in a very political family, one that had a very long and illustrious history of government service. Both his grandfather and great grandfather had been members of the General Assembly and he had a very firm philosophy already developed. We happened to share many things in common as far as his philosophy was concerned particularly his attitude towards service toward people, his attitude toward helping those who were least able to help themselves which was his basic focus in the kinds of programs that he initiated. He seldom asked my opinion although he discussed things with me and I often would suggest approaches or ideas to him but he was definitely his own person. I, there was no situation that I dictated to him what his position would be and I was probably one of several advisers that he had in discussing the kinds of things that he might choose to do. BOWEN: Okay. In your immediate family, before your husband, had anybody in your family been involved in politics at the state level or local level? KENTON: No one in my family had held public office. BOWEN: No one. Okay. And before you ran for state representative did you have any other interest, had you ever run for public office before? KENTON: No, I had not run for public office. It had not even been considered. Bill was the politician of the family, I was the support person, of course, knowing much of the policy activities that went on in being a participant in the development of campaign positions and those other kinds of things, but definitely his was the primary career when it came to public office. BOWEN: Okay. Had you ever been involved in other campaigns before your own? KENTON: Oh, certainly. I have a degree in lick-and-stick (Bowen laughs). BOWEN: Okay. Would you like to talk about some of those campaigns and things? KENTON: Well, I was always involved-Bill and I married before he ever ran for office, and I was involved to some extent in the policy making but more often in the actual nitty-gritty campaign activities, which I think was probably a traditional position for wives particularly to be in, especially when you have a politician who is just beginning the climb up the ladder. You do everything that has to be done. You address the campaign envelopes, you, as technology got better, you lifted them off the address labels and you stuck them on, you sort them, you go and do the knocking on doors to campaign door to door and hand out the literature, you take the telephone calls, you do the telephone solicitation, and to some extent you sit in and listen on what the campaign policies and procedures are, the strategy on the election and make some contribution to that to some extent. My involvement in those activities changed over the years as Bill became more successful in his political races he had other people who were able to step in and to do those things and my family responsibilities grew in the course of the years as well, and so to some extent my involvement in that diminished some as he advanced up the political career ladder. BOWEN: Okay. And your political affiliation is with the Democrat Party, correct? KENTON: Yes. BOWEN: Have you always been a member of that party? KENTON: No, I was a Republican till I married. BOWEN: Really (laughs)? What made you change? KENTON: My husband (both laugh). BOWEN: Okay. KENTON: That and the fact that I agreed philosophically with the position of the party. BOWEN: Were your parents Republicans? KENTON: Yes. My parents were Republican, or at least my mother was Republican because her grandfather had fought for the Union soldiers during the Civil War so it was definitely an historical affiliation to the party. BOWEN: Okay. Have you been an active participant in the Democratic Party since you've become a member? KENTON: Yes, probably less active in the last few years than I had been before but I have participated-of course, always having had a full time job outside of the home it limits the amount of time that you can spend in participating in things so that had some effect as well. BOWEN: Okay. This is really a three-part question. I'd like to know what professional qualifications, personal qualities, or personal experience or knowledge did you feel that you had that qualified you for to be a member of the General Assembly of the state? KENTON: Well, aside from the association that I had had with my husband who had very important leadership positions in the General Assembly and the- BOWEN: He was the speaker for four terms? KENTON: Well, yes. BOWEN: Four terms. KENTON: No, I take that back. He was speaker for three because he died- BOWEN: Died at the beginning of the forth. KENTON: at the beginning of the fourth at, of his fourth term. The job that I was working in with the Council of State Governments also prepared me to have some knowledge and expertise in general legislative process and in the kinds of problems and issues that were facing not only Kentucky but all the states at the time that I ran for office. My responsibility as far as working is concerned at the Council was to track the legislative process and focus primarily on legislatures and legislators and that had been my primary focus for the twelve years that I was working there. So I felt that I was certainly prepared issue wise to be able to fill the position. And having participated with Bill in the election process I felt that I knew the district as well as anyone under the circumstances to be able to represent them. BOWEN: Okay. What do you think you brought to the job that made you effective at the state level? KENTON: I think the feeling that I had for the people within the district and the long history I had had of working for the district made be effective in that context. BOWEN: Okay. Before you went to Frankfort the first time as a member of the General Assembly what did you think the role of government in society was? KENTON: The role of government in society is to provide for the general needs of the society to take, to provide those functions or assets that an individual could not provide for themselves. The basic examples are how the society comes together as a whole to provide for roads or for utility services or for the general education of the population. These are the things that an individual by his own efforts could not do as well as society combined together can do. BOWEN: Okay. How intrusive do you think that government should be in society? How far do you think they should go (unintelligible)? KENTON: I think government has to supply a safety net to be sure that everyone has an adequate amount of housing, of food, and of clothing and has an equal and adequate opportunity to acquire the skills necessary to function in the society. BOWEN: Okay. After having been in the legislature for two terms, right? KENTON: Well, actually it was two legislative sessions, but it was just one term, because at the time that I served they were changing the election procedure. BOWEN: Okay. Have you changed your opinion on what the role, did you change your opinion on what the role of government should be after serving for two years? KENTON: No. BOWEN: No? Okay. When you first went to the legislature what did you think your role was as a legislator? KENTON: Well I, my role was first of all to represent the interest of my constituents as best as I could determine it. You find when you get into the General Assembly that your constituents don't know about or are not interested in about 90 percent of the things that you (laughs) have to make a decision on, and so in that instance you then must look to what you think is the best welfare of the community as the whole, and in this case the community is sometimes more than just my district, but Lexington or the general environs of Lexington, and sometimes the community is Kentucky itself. BOWEN: Um-hm. And do you think that the role of the legislator in society is different than what the role would be when you were in Frankfort? Like when you come home from Frankfort from a session what do you think your role is here as a member of, you know, just the general public? KENTON: The role in the General Assembly is to pass good legislation and keep bad legislation from being passed (laughs). The role in the community is to keep in touch with the people so that you have the opportunity to understand what their feelings are and what their needs are and to give them whatever assistance these constituents need to be able to access the government system. BOWEN: And when you first went to the General Assembly in 1982 did you feel like you were elected by your constituents to vote in their best interest or to vote how they wanted you to? If you knew in your district that they wanted you to vote a specific way on an issue that you didn't think that that was the right way (laughs) to vote or the best, in their best interest which one, which way would you have done it? Would you have voted the way they wanted you to or what you felt was the best option? KENTON: I always attempted to vote what I felt was the best option. Sometimes you have to set yourself up to make that decision and let the chips where they may. There are lots of other opportunities where you don't really have any strong feelings one way or the other about it and in that case you look more to the general tone and feeling of the constituents. I don't think I would have voted or could have voted against my own conscience. As a matter of fact, I went on record publicly through my vote in support of a choice position in the abortion issue and I was one of fifteen people who did so. And there are a number of people who live in my district who have a very opposite viewpoint of that, but there are certain things that you just have to vote what your conscience tells you to vote for. As I say, there are others where you don't have any strong moral feeling about it and you follow the will of the people. I know that not all legislators feel the same about that. BOWEN: How would you characterize your voting patterns over the two sessions that you were in? KENTON: Within what kind of context do you ask that? BOWEN: Within the same context we were talking about, as a general pattern do you think you voted your conscience or voted, what your constituents wanted you to or did it just depend on the issue, and how would think that over the two terms that you- KENTON: I was probably considered to be a reasonably liberal legislator from within the context of being a person seeking for individual choice. I was probably more interested in voting to support the individual over corporate interests, and I guess within that context I would be termed a liberal as well. BOWEN: Yeah, probably (laughs). In this day, probably. When you went to the legislature did you have a specific agenda that you wanted to achieve in those two sessions? KENTON: No, I didn't. I wanted to go and represent the constituents as best they could through a very traumatic experience for all of us. Bill had been a very effective legislator for this district and for the community as a whole and it was an enormous loss to- BOWEN: For ten years, right? KENTON: Yes. He had served, well, he had, was first elected in 1969 and he died in 1981, so it was really twelve years. BOWEN: Twelve years. KENTON: But it had been, it was a traumatic loss for the community as well as for his family so my major purpose was to affect a reasonably smooth transition and try to reflect the general will of the people in that process. BOWEN: Okay. Looking back now, do you think that when you went to Frankfort as a new legislator, do you think you were a little maybe naive about how the things would operate when you got to Frankfort or had you been involved in politics enough that you knew what to expect when you got there? KENTON: I was knowledgeable of the process but there is vast difference between knowing it intellectually and in experiencing it. I was unprepared for the toughness that's involved in the push-and-shove of the political process. It was an enlightening experience. BOWEN: How long do you think it took you to learn the ropes of the General Assembly, how things got done, who did you, who to talk to, who to- KENTON: Well, I went to the process knowing, as I said, theoretically what all those things were. Actually making, pushing the right buttons to make things happen the way I wanted to was a lengthier learning experience. I mean I knew which buttons to push but how hard you push them, and at what sequence you push them, and how much gets done when you do push them was another and different experience. BOWEN: Definitely. What was it like being a woman in the General Assembly? KENTON: Probably my experience would not be typical of what other people would find, because I was more than just a woman; I was Bill Kenton's widow. And I had personal relationships with the legislators through my connections with him that other freshmen women would not have had. So it, I cannot say anyone treated my badly but in some ways it might've been just as easy if I had gone in without that prior history than it would've been otherwise. I can't really reflect on that as easily as a person independently elected with a, or even some of the other widows who had been elected to serve in their husbands' seats. They had frequently not had quite as much of a leadership position or had been quite as dominant in the legislative process as my husband had been. BOWEN: Okay. And do you think, I know and being in political science and everything that even within the department of political science in different universities and colleges there is like an old-boy network where the guys can go out, and I know at the university level it's, "let's go out and have a beer and talk about things," and they get things done a lot quicker through that method than I could do going in and (laughs) having official meetings with people, did you find that at the state level that there was a network of men who got things done more efficiently through outside means rather than within actually the General Assembly? KENTON: Oh, there is unquestionably a lot of business that is conducted behind the doors of the legislative offices section. I was not particularly excluded from that network. I went in and was accepted by the other freshmen legislators as an equal in the negotiations and the strategy and there was more a division between those who were older legislators in times of service and those who had just come in as freshmen than there was between men or women. The General Assembly at the time had several very effective women legislators, and there was some mentoring that went on, but the women did not have, did not always have, communality of interest in issues. So you couldn't say that you were engaging in an old-boy network to accomplish a particular thing based on your sexual preference, or your sexual orientation, or your sexuality itself, but it was more on the issues involved and how you lined up in support or opposition to those issues. BOWEN: And do you remember specifically anybody in either of the two terms that made an impression on you as being a very effective legislator? KENTON: Oh, certainly Dottie Priddy was an effective legislator. Art Schmidt, who is now the, in the Senate, was the minority leader, and he sat right next to me and he was, he mentored me as much as anyone did, I think. There were a number of my husband's friends who gave me aid and assistance in one variety or another. BOWEN: Okay. The special election of January of 1982, if I am correct, is the first election that you were elected- KENTON: Yes. BOWEN: to serve your husband's term did anyone run against you for that election? KENTON: Yes. Yeah, I had an opponent. BOWEN: Okay. Who was that? KENTON: Well, I'll have to tell you that I can't tell you (laughs) who my opponent was. Obviously he didn't make much impression (both laugh). BOWEN: The reason I'm asking is I was looking through the newspapers and I cannot find out who he was either. I was just like really, I looked through all the Lexington Herald Leaders surrounding that time and I cannot find out who it was and I thought, well, I'm just gonna have to ask because I cannot find anything on your opponent. It was mostly just about you, and I thought, "well, surely somebody is gonna mention him eventually." KENTON: There was a Republican. If I think of his name I'll let you know. BOWEN: Okay (both laugh). When you decided to run what did you do to organize your campaign, or did you have to campaign very much to get elected in that district since your husband had such a long history of being a good legislator in that district? KENTON: The process-actually there was a special election that was called, and my husband had been elected, or was elected, he fell ill the day before the election in that same week and so he was technically elected to the next term of office and so his seat did not become vacant until the first day of the General Assembly meeting in January. The special election had to be called by the General Assembly and the nominating procedure was that the precinct officers in the Democratic Party gathered in caucus and selected their nominee. My husband's key supporters and I had agreed that I would run for the office. I think we both came to the idea at the same time. I, they came and talked to me, and about the same time that I had decided that I thought I could do that also. The precinct officers had been supporters of Bill's at the time that they were elected precinct officers, and so I had a natural pool of support from the precinct officers for the nominating procedure. And the campaign organization that had elected my husband basically was the one that elected me. It was a very short election proceeding- BOWEN: Which was from what? November, the election was January the 25th I think, wasn't it? KENTON: Yes, but the seat was not actually declared vacant until the first day of the General Assembly which was the, I forgot what day of the month it was but it's always the first Tuesday after the first Monday of the year, and so it was the third, or fourth, or fifth or something of the sort where the actual charge could be then issued by the speaker that there was a vacancy in the office and a special election would have to be a called. So really the campaign was just a month long. There was basically not much campaign. BOWEN: Okay. And when you ran for the General Assembly, this is not only for the 1982 but in 1984 also, what was the political situation in your district? I mean what was the majority, what is your district like? KENTON: What is the composition of the district? BOWEN: Yeah. I mean that economically, socially, everything, what is the- KENTON: The 75th District at one time was the hole of the doughnut. It was the district that was carved out of Fayette County. The boundary lines were the radius of one mile from the courthouse. That was prior to all the redistricting activities that took place in the early '60s and then again in the early '70s. It basically retained its character as being the center city, the center of the city, and as the population of Fayette County moved south the district moved south to some extent. So, the characteristics of the district included a portion of the district being black. Most of the lower-income people within Fayette County were found within the district. It included many of the precincts surrounding the University of Kentucky. So the orientation of the district was probably more liberal in its philosophy and in its economic needs than other districts in Fayette County. BOWEN: Okay. [End of Tape #1, Side #1] [Begin of Tape #1, Side #2] BOWEN: Okay. When you decided to run for state representative what did your family, what did your children think about it? KENTON: They were supportive of it. BOWEN: And did, when you ran and when you were a member do, were you contacted by special interest groups? KENTON: Oh, sure. BOWEN: What did you think of them at the state level about their effectiveness and about their role and purpose and did they just bother you too much? I've heard many people say that some of these special interest groups just lobbying very, very harshly and they just bothered the legislators a lot and they don't have time sometimes to get a lot of business done because of the lobbying, what do you think about it? KENTON: I think there is a valid role in the process for people to come and advance their interests. Any individual citizen who wants to influence a legislator is a lobbyist within the broadest context of that. More often than not there is a dislike of people who organize themselves in a specific focus in order to advance that focus to a legislator and probably the greatest abuses come from people within that context. Lobbyists can be very valuable to legislators because they present a viewpoint and they frequently have specific information to support their viewpoint which would be difficult for a legislator to develop on their own. So a legislator can choose to use a lobbyist to support his own view, and can use a lobbyist to, as a sounding board for gathering of information. The most disagreeable aspects of a lobbying situation is when the lobbyist attempts to use coercion on the legislator and to extort a particular position from a legislator. For example, "if you don't vote the way I want you to vote on this particular issue I will go and find an opponent to run against you and fund his campaign." Which is obviously a very strong message that the lobbyist is sending and it is also a very effective message. Very few legislators like to have an opponent put in against them and they certainly find it difficult to, in this day and age of very expensive campaigns, find it difficult to combat someone who's willing to place a lot of money behind an opponent. That is the grossest and crudest way to influence politics, but it's very effective, and because it's effective it's used. As far as my personal experiences were concerned, I think a legislator has to decide as you decide on votes of conscience just how far you're willing to allow those kind of tactics to influence your representation and frequently there is someone of a different persuasion that you can counterbalance that too. I have some sympathy for the lobbyists because it's very difficult in the General Assembly process to get time to be able to present your case to a legislator. The legislators have a limited amount of time. There are lots of people who want to put a draw on that time and once you've made up your mind you don't want to be bothered by having somebody try to, trying to change your mind. BOWEN: Okay. Let me see, during your second election did you have to campaign more heavily than you did during the first one? KENTON: Oh, yes. BOWEN: You did? How did you go about organizing? Did you have a Democratic opponent during the primary? KENTON: Yes, I had a Democratic opponent who is the current occupant of the seat as a matter of fact. I was defeated in my campaign for reelection. This individual had moved into the district about the same time that my husband died and I had several choices to make. I was in the situation where I had a relatively young family and a, was unemployed as far as any other source of employment except for my legislative pay, because in order to run for the General Assembly I had to had to resign from my position at the Council of State Governments. And because I felt the need to prepare myself to have a career where I could earn a sufficient amount to support my family well I had chosen to go back to law school. And so during the period of time that I was in the General Assembly I was also in law school, and my opponent spent the time that I was I in law school and acting as a legislator in campaigning for my seat (laughs). So, consequently I was at somewhat of a disadvantage in that I was not spending as much time in the campaigning process as he was. BOWEN: This was in 1985? KENTON: Eighty--, no, it was '84. BOWEN: Eighty-four? KENTON: Um-hm. BOWEN: Okay. So the- KENTON: The election was held in the spring of 1984 and I was in the General Assembly. They had a legislative session in the spring of '84 as well. BOWEN: Right. Okay. And- KENTON: And he had been campaigning for six months prior to the election. He began the campaign in the fall really before the General Assembly met in January. BOWEN: Okay. And what, during this election did you have the same support from the local Democratic Party members as you had before? KENTON: Well, the local Democratic Party membership is fragmented during a primary. It's pretty much everybody puts his own organization together. As a matter of fact I had, I did not have the same support during my reelection campaign that I had had during the initial campaign. My husband's organization had divided, and I did not have the same support from them. There was not the unified support from them that I had had during the initial campaign. I think it was an inevitable activity that my husband's organization would have to go through some transition before it became my campaign organization and that was not successfully done. BOWEN: Okay. In your 1982 session when you were elected to take your husband's seat did people view that as your husband's seat or as your seat? Did they expect you to vote the way that he would've voted or vote the way you thought on issues that you all were divided on? KENTON: I think people expected me to be elected to the General Assembly and go in and be speaker (both laugh). It's amusing to think about but there were even people within my husband's organization who assumed that I would have similar powers or influence within the legislative process, or maybe they didn't assume that but it never occurred that, to them that I would not have the same influence and power in the legislative process as my husband had had. It was an enormous shock to everyone when he died so suddenly and it was a very difficult adjustment for a lot of people, and I was elected to his seat as a freshman legislator with all of the same disadvantages that every other freshman legislator has in the ability to-well, I was at least able to have good committee appointments because that was a heritage from my husband, but as far as being in a position to exercise the same power within the legislative process as he it, I was simply not in that position at all. And there were several bills that came through that had he been sitting in the seat he could've influenced in certain ways that I was unable to do so. And some of these things were issues which displeased my husband's close political supporters and it was a contributing factor to the disillusion of his organization. BOWEN: Okay. [End of interview] Kenton (House 1982-1984, 75th district; Democrat) discusses growing up in Louisville (Ky.), her educational influences, return to law school later in life, and the political career of her husband Bill Kenton, whose seat she took over following his death. She concludes by discussing the role of government and legislature in society, and her campaign for State Representative. Part 1 of 2. Kentucky Legislature