There was a time when Kentucky State government was total chaos. The years of 1968 through 1972, federal funds from Washington DC flowed into Kentucky without rhyme or reason.
This was an era of 1200 federal programs for states and cities. This was the era of revenue sharing. For Kentucky, this was the era of being overwhelmed by lack of coordination in state government operations.
Major federal funding for health, transportation, economic development, parks, environmental concerns, as well as over 200 special interests, defined the governmental landscape. By 1970, there were almost 300 separate boards, commission, agencies that operated outside the control of the Governor's Office.
Frankfort, KY at this time, was a state capital divided into two warring camps. Governor Nunn and the Republican Party held control of the operations of state government. Democratic Lt. Governor Wendell Ford was building a massive campaign structure for the elections of 1971.
Governor Nunn fought boards and commissions to gain executive power over their planning, budgets and staff. Nunn created the most powerful agency in Kentucky history for coordinating federal funds. This was the Kentucky Program Development Office (KPDO).
Nunn used KPDO to gain operational control of all federal funding coming into Kentucky. The agency's primarily purpose was to be the official gatekeeper over who got federal funds. KDPO also was the structure for delivering federal and state funds down to local governments by way of yet another innovation in government. This was the creation 15 region bodies call Area Development Districts (ADD). The Purchase ADD was the first with the Bluegrass ADD being the last to form in 1972.
In the election of 1972, Wendell Ford was elected Governor. Ford quickly moved to change Frankfort. Governor Ford had three major goals as part of his campaign strategy. They were (1) Beat the Republicans and take over the state capitol. (2) Limit the power of Boards and Commissions, and (3) Reorganize and modernize the operations of state executive branch.
Newly elected Governor, Ford, established base of strategic planning within KPDO. As all employees who worked for KPDO were non-merit, hiring and firing came in rapid succession by Governor Ford. Within the week of his election, all managers and staff of KPDO who were loyalty to Nunn, had been replaced.
Within six months, special teams were designing total reorganization of all of Kentucky's Executive Branch of state government. KPDO was broken apart to become the Office for Local Government (OLG) and the Office of Program and Management (OPM).
The 300 Boards and Commissions and line agencies of state government were organized into seven new cabinets. All Boards and Commissions were to be coordinated from the Governor's Office.
Governor Ford's bold approach to state planning and dealing with new complex intergovernmental relations of federal and state relations allowed him the cover to totally remake state government.
Wendell Ford's legacy in Kentucky history would include Lt. Governor, Governor, and US Senator. Most Americans will remember him as a tough powerful Senator from Kentucky who got things done.
With his death last week, little attention as been given to his remarkable leadership in the years of 1972 through 1973, when he transformed Kentucky out of the shadows of mediocrity to a platform of statewide planning, regionalism, and the strongest federal state relations of all the states to Washington, DC.
Any discussion of how Kentucky state government became a modern state must include the name of Wendell Ford.
His legacy is that he built 20th Century state government.
Editor's Note: Ivan Potter began working in state government in 1969 during Gov. Louie Nunn's administration. He stayed when Ford became governor, enjoying a front row seat to the developments he recounts above.