A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Rep. Mike Denham: Ford was more than a statesman; laid foundation for generations

FRANKFORT – Late last week, Kentucky lost one of its true statesmen with the passing of former U.S. Senator Wendell Ford.
Since then, there have been numerous accolades about his many accomplishments in Washington, D.C. – from helping to write and pass the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Motor Voter Act to promoting Kentucky’s signature coal and tobacco industries – but it is worth noting that several actions taken during his time as governor continue to benefit Kentuckians today.
Although he served in that office for just three years, leaving in 1974 to begin his tenure in the U.S. Senate, his administration overhauled how state government works and it also implemented the coal-severance tax while carving out the sales tax exemption for food and prescription drugs.
The coal-severance tax, created in 1972, has since pumped hundreds of millions of dollars back into the coal counties, which receive half of the revenue.
This money is now used for such things as boosting economic development, extending needed infrastructure and supporting energy-related research. Last year, the General Assembly added to that list when it set aside $2 million a year for scholarships to help coal-county college students pursue their bachelor’s degree while staying close to home.
Strengthening the public postsecondary system was also a priority for Gov. Ford. His leadership helped Kentucky’s two newest universities at the time – the University of Louisville, which had been a municipally supported school for decades, and Northern Kentucky University – get off to a good start.
Sen. Ford’s memorial service in the Rotunda this past Sunday was a fitting tribute given all that he accomplished for Kentucky, and it’s just a short walk from there to the governor’s office where he served. It’s also close to where it all began for him politically.
That came just two floors up, in the Kentucky House chamber where his dad served while he was an eight-year-old honorary page. It was in there where the young Ford gave his first public remarks.
Few then could have guessed just how much he would do for Kentucky, but as we mourn his passing, there are few now unaware of the legacy he leaves behind. He truly made a difference.
I first met him when I was a young boy and my father was a member of the Kentucky House. Sen. Ford was then working with Gov. Bert Combs as his executive secretary.
Later on, I served as a local campaign chairman for Sen. Ford’s senatorial campaigns, because I had such respect and admiration for how he did his job. He would always take time with me to talk about projects important to our region, because that was how he was. He knew how to treat people and never acted like he was above them.
It’s a lesson those of us in the General Assembly always keep in mind. Next week, we return to the Capitol to begin the main portion of the 2015 Regular Session. We have 26 working days and a long agenda to cover.
I hope to hear from you soon.
1 mike denham

Rep. Mike Denham, a Democrat from Maysville, has represented House District 70 (Bracken, Fleming and Mason counties) since 2001.

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