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Women in nontraditional county races are 5% of candidates in 2014
Rosie the Riveter - a Kentucky woman in a man's job.

Women in Kentucky are beginning to run for elective office in greater numbers than in the past. With high profile candidates like Alison Lundergan Grimes and Sanny Overly, picked this week to run for lieutenant governor as Jack Conway’s running mate, women at the top of the ticket are not so unusual. In the past state elections, women on both sides of the aisle sought state office. Of those, only Alision Lundergan Grimes was successful. 

Kentucky's had one woman governor - Martha Layne Collins, a Democrat. The only woman to ever hold the office of lieutenant governor was Democrat Thelma Stovall. Kentucky’s first woman auditor was Democrat Crit Luallen.

Republicans have had at least one success getting a woman into higher office. The first - and only - woman to serve in Congress from Kentucky was Anne Northrop a Republican woman.

That’s the top of the ticket. What about county offices?

We looked at several county offices to see if women are making significant inroads into jobs traditionally reserved for men - coroner, sheriff, jailer, county judge and magistrate. We did some rounding off of percentages and do not pretend that the numbers and percents are accurate to the last decimal. Where there was a name that could be a male or female, we admit we guessed a bit. Like all statistical data, there exists a small margin of error.

**Note to our friends in Jefferson and Fayette Counties - races for urban county government were not counted. Looking at the names, we suspect that percentages will be higher in urban areas - but that’s another story for another day.**

To start to understand whether the numbers, percentages of women running for these offices are good, bad, or indifferent, a little statistics information on Kentucky‘s population and its voters:

*At last count, there were two million, eight hundred sixty eight thousand, eight hundred forty seven (2,868,847) registered voters in the Commonwealth.

*Of that number, one million, six hundred seventy two thousand, six hundred sixty four (1,672,664) are Democrats.

* One million, one hundred ninety six thousand, one hundred eighty three (1,196,183) voters are Republicans.

*Other registrations make up two hundred thirty six thousand, four hundred ninety nine (236,499) voters.

* Democrats are 58.3% of the electorate. Republicans are 41.6%. Other is less than 1% .

*Women make up 50.7% of the population.

County Judge: The chief executive officer in a Kentucky county is the county judge. Despite the name, county judges do not have to be lawyers. In fact, the only requirement to serve as county judge is being a resident of the county.

There are 389 candidates running for county judge in Kentucky this year. Of those 19, or 4.8 % are women. Twelve are Democrats, seven are Republicans. In one county, Ballard, two women, incumbentVickie Viniard is running against challenger Cathy McIntyre Sullivan.

Magistrate: County governments are run by board called fiscal courts and those who sit on those boards are magistrates. Fiscal courts serve as a kind of local legislature - they set the county budget, look over the county judge’s shoulder on issues of personnel, decide the all important issue of who gets blacktop from the county road fund, and generally make decisions related to county spending. The number of magistrates on a fiscal court is based upon population.

At this writing, the Kentucky Secretary of State’s website lists 1696 candidates for magistrate. Of those 120, or 7% are women - 61 Democrats, 58 Republicans and one Independent.

Sheriff: The sheriff is both a tax collector and a law enforcement officer. They are not the chief law enforcement officer and they do not have to receive law enforcement training. Residency is their only requirement. Deputy sheriffs must be law enforcement officers and must be trained and certified. Sheriffs don’t have to do that - but many do.

In 2014, there are 401 candidates for sheriff. Of those, nine, or 2%, are women, six Democrats and three Republicans.

Coroner: The chief law enforcement officer of a county is the coroner. Only the coroner can arrest the sheriff. Coroners in Kentucky are peace officers. They can carry guns and have arrest powers. They also must receive training in medical forensics issues from the state.

There are 189 candidates on the ballot for coroner this year. Of those, 23 are women, fifteen are Democrats and eight are Republicans. At 12%, women are running for coroner at a higher percentage than any of the other offices we looked at.

Jailer: As we found out locally, there are jailers and there are transportation officers. Jailers serve operating county jails. Transportation officers take prisoners to facilities outside of the county. The salary difference is marked. Jailers have no requirements to run for the job, but residency.

Presently, there are 395 candidates for the position of jailer listed on the Secretary of State’s website. Of those, 19, or 5%, are women. In three counties, Hickman, Mason and Clay, women candidates are running against each other. There are 11 Democrats, 7 Republicans and one Independent.

Summary: Women are running for nontraditional offices. When they do, they face questions from voters on whether their gender affects their ability to do the job. It’s an added step in an already uphill climb.

In all the races we looked at, with the exception of magistrate, Democrats are fielding a significantly higher number of women candidates than Republicans. Numbers of Democratic women running often doubles the number of GOP women seeking local office. That may be a vestige of local Democratic strongholds in the Commonwealth. It could also be a signal that Democrats recruit more women or are friendlier to women candidates. It may be that Republican conservative women are reluctant to seek office. There is no way to be certain without further research.

When the dust of 2014 clears in November and election results are final, there should be reflection among local political leaders on why 50.1% of the electorate produce fewer than 6% of the candidates for local office. With the exception of the Emerge Kentucky program which trains Democratic women to run for office, there exists no organization to encourage women to run. It is worth noting there exists no organization to train men to run either, unless one counts tradition and informal mentoring.

Kentucky ranks near the bottom of the nation in the number of elected women. Unless there is a rapid uptick in the numbers seeking office, the bottom is where the Bluegrass State will remain.

Below: Former Governor Martha Layne Collins at Emerge Kentucky event. It's a training program for Democratic women who want to run for office.

 Martha Layne Collins


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