A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Republican lawmaker Westerfield files to begin fundraising for 2019 state attorney general race

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Republican Whitney Westerfield will make a second run for attorney general, filing a letter of intent with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance on Tuesday so that he can begin raising money for the campaign two years ahead of the 2019 election cycle.

Westerfield came up short by a razor-thin margin in his initial bid for the post in November 2015, losing to incumbent Democrat Andy Beshear by a tenth of a percentage point despite being outspent $300,000 to $3 million.

“I’m running because I believe I’m the best candidate for the job, and I believe I can beat Andy Beshear, if he’s the Democratic nominee,” Westerfield said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m running because there’s a job to be done, and the incumbent isn’t doing it.”

Republican Whitney Westerfield, shown here speaking in the Senate, announced Tuesday he would seek election as attorney general in Kentucky. (LRC Public Information Photo)

It’s unclear whether other Republicans will enter the race or if Beshear will seek the Democratic nomination for a second term. Speculation is rampant in Frankfort that Beshear will make a run for governor.

The incumbent attorney general has kept himself in the headlines over the past two years as an outspoken critic of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. In what might best be described as a very public feud with Bevin, Beshear has filed four lawsuits thus far questioning the governor’s executive decisions.

Westerfield, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has played a lead role in massive changes in the state’s criminal justice system. He led the charge for instituting tougher penalties for drug dealers in the face of an opioid epidemic that has killed thousands of overdose victims.

At the same time, he has been instrumental in allowing nonviolent felons who have completed their sentences to expunge their criminal records so that they can get jobs become productive members of society.

Westerfield said the current attorney general, as the state’s top law enforcement official, should have been involved in those conservations.

“He was absent,” Westerfield said. “We’ve done some pretty big legislation in the past few years, and he hasn’t been there.”

Westerfield, a Southern Baptist from Hopkinsville, is held in high regards by Kentucky’s evangelical community. He pushed for years for the prolife laws that finally passed the Legislature this year. One bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Another requires women seeking abortions to first be given the opportunity to view ultrasound images of their unborn babies.

Beshear spokeswoman Crystal Staley said in a statement that the attorney general has been busy working on behalf of Ketnuckians since he took office.

“Under the leadership of General Beshear, our cyber crimes division has removed a record number of child predators from Kentucky communitie,” she said. “We launched Scam Alerts – the state’s first warning system that notifies Kentucky seniors when con artists are on the attack. We provided $4.5 million in settlement dollars to fund the crime lab upgrades to prevent future rape kit backlogs, and we have taken numerous actions to fight the single greatest threat to Kentucky – the state’s drug epidemic.”

Staley said Beshear’s office has provided $8 million for drug treatment and $2 million to get addicts out of court and into recovery.

“General Beshear has also had the courage to be the check on executive power that our Constitution requires,” she said. “When he challenged the governor’s 2016 cuts to universities, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled the governor’s actions were unlawful. Attorney General Beshear hopes anyone running for this office would be equally willing to uphold the Constitution and protect the rights of Kentuckians when a public official violates the law.”

Tom Latek can be reached at tom.latek@kentuckytoday.com

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