Newly sworn in Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson wasted no time in outlining what he sees as his role as second man in the Beshear Administration. He won’t be twiddling his thumbs waiting to take over when the Gov takes a vacation or when the Senate needs a tie broken.
“I plan to be the most active and hopefully effective lieutenant governor in the modern history of the Commonwealth.”
He told the hundreds who attended Tuesday’s ceremony on a cloudy day last week in Frankfort that he was not chosen solely for his contribution to the campaign, but what he can bring to governance. Abramson, who served for years first as mayor of Louisville, then as county judge in Kentucky’s largest and most urban city/county government, touted Louisville’s rise to becoming one of the most livable cities in America.
Abramson’s equation for success then was public – private partnerships.
According to Abramson, the strategy was clear:
” ..We invested in our infrastructure (roads, bridges, sewer and water lines, parks and airport).
We worked with the private sector to create jobs (hand in glove).
We invested in our neighborhoods to keep them safe and beautiful.
We invested in our people – their health, their education and their quality of life.
And we made all of those investments while cutting the size of government by 20 percent – and not raising taxes…”
It is a strategy that Abramson and Beshear clearly will apply to the Commonwealth. The Governor started on that path during his first administration. Among other partnerships, he turned Medicaid, that big expensive insurance program for the disadvantaged, over to several private companies.
Abramson has said publicly that he is interested in working on economic development and education issues. While he may not formally take the reins of cabinets that oversee those areas, Abramson looks to become the go-to guy in the Administration in those areas.
“We partnered with our schools – the leaders of the K-12 school system, the community colleges and universities; we partnered with our business community, our faith community, our non-profits and civic organizations.”
Abramson’s aim to open government up to the private sector is out there for all who will see. In his closing remarks, he said, “Public-private partnerships must become the rule rather than the exception for positive change to occur…”
Past Kentucky governors have had similar ideas. Governor Wallace Wilkinson wanted government run like a business. Governor John Y. Brown cut government jobs and turned governmental functions over to the private sector. Governor Patton declared Kentucky “open for business” as his administration’s theme.
The efforts have produced mixed results. Jail privatization has led to private prisons that cost the state more per prisoner than locally run jails. A prison riot at Northpoint Training Center in August 2009 was traced to inedible food served by Aramark, a provider to the state since 2005.
The trend is continuing and accelerating. According the Lexington Herald Leader, the University of Kentucky announced a plan to turn over dormitory management to a private firm that will build its own student housing. In Louisville, plans to merge a public hospital with those run by the Catholic Church have stirred opposition and at least one lawsuit.
Abramson, who’s known Beshear for over thirty years, will be a force to be reckoned with in the Beshear Administration. Businesses that specialize in doing government’s work will be lining up at the Lt. Gov.’s door with their proposals.
They will find a willing ear in the new lieutenant governor.