Crit Luallen’s past – and future – were in the spotlight Wednesday when she spoke to the Frankfort Rotary Club at its weekly meeting.
Former state auditor Luallen has spent the past eight years making more than 400 speeches, overseeing 5,000 audits and returning millions of dollars to the state taxpayers.
“Fortunately in Franklin County, you have honest public servants, but in cities and counties across the commonwealth, this is not the case,” she told the Rotarians.
Luallen said there were 35 prosecutions in local governments because of audits.
“The headlines are about the few who abused the public trust. There are more public leaders working hard to be accountable for taxpayer money.”
She says the same holds true for boards that oversee state money, but whose members may not see their fiduciary responsibility and may react more like they are part of a private company.
She says she is often questioned about the need for a state watchdog.
“Kentucky has too few resources, and we can’t afford to waste or lose those dollars.”
Luallen says the need for those resources becomes evident in light of Kentucky’s comparison to the rest of the states.
“Kentucky is fifth in overall national poverty. We rank high in the numbers of abused children and battered women. We have one of the highest rates of heart disease and lung cancer and more citizens receiving Medicaid than we do enrolled students in schools.
“For every 20 students who enter ninth grade only three of those graduate from college.”
She called the state budget the roadmap to confront the challenges that lie ahead.
“We must demand our leaders find common ground.”
Luallen said the state needs a sustained commitment to education at all levels.
According to Luallen, research shows that it will take at least 120 years for Kentuckians to attain the national income average.
“Citizens must speak on issues. We need smart people at the table for change, and politics must be left at the door.”
Answering questions from the audience, Luallen agreed that money is an incredible force in the political arena.
“We need election finance reform. Groups like super PACs tip the scale heavily toward money.”
Luallen says the public should become engaged and serve as activists to solve the problem with money.
“We have over 400,000 women in the state eligible to vote, but they are not even registered.
“Somehow we must get people invested in following the issues and following the spending; and demanding transparency at all levels.”
Luallen says even today – although she’s not the first statewide elected woman to public office – women are still not embraced as viable candidates.
She recalled an older man she met while campaigning in Winchester.
“Ump, running for state auditor are you? You might not win, but you’ll sure look good doing it.”
Rotarian Carol Palmore called Luallen “the 21st century’s public servant extraordinaire.”
Other honors and awards have come the Frankfort native’s way since she departed as Kentucky’s auditor of public accounts in December.
The Bluegrass Council of the Boy Scouts of America will present the Fontaine Banks Award for Distinguished Service to Luallen at a fundraising banquet March 29 at Capital Plaza Hotel.
“I was honored the Bluegrass Council wants to present me this award, but I am more excited the event will help them raise money for their programs,” Luallen said.
She will receive the Martha Layne Collins award from Women Leading Kentucky in May, and an honorary degree from Spaulding University at its graduation ceremonies.
The Kentucky Commission on Women and Gov. Steve Beshear honored Luallen earlier in March by naming her as one of the three women of influence in the 2012 Kentucky Women Remembered ceremony.
Luallen became the third member in her family to have her portrait hang in the halls of the Capitol.
On both sides of her family, Luallen has ancestry that includes two Kentucky governors – John Jordan Crittenden and Dr. Luke Pryor Blackburn.
Although neither ever worked in the present Capitol, at one time all governors’ portraits hung there until they were moved to a collection at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History.
Crittenden served as governor from 1848 until 1850 when he was appointed U.S. attorney general by President Millard Fillmore. He served again in that position when appointed by President William Henry Harrison. Crittenden’s wife, Sarah Lee, was a cousin of President Zachary Taylor.
Blackburn served as governor from 1879 until 1883 and was the only physician to do so until Ernie Fletcher became governor 200 years later. Blackburn had his own pedigree. His great uncle, Gideon, was the first president of Centre College. Henry Clay was a distant cousin.
Because of his work with prison reform, Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington bears his name.
What’s more, Blackburn is responsible for the merger of Kentucky A & M and Kentucky University into State College, which in 1916 became the University of Kentucky.
One of six children of Eugenia Crittenden Hay and Samuel Everett Blackburn, Luallen bears the historical names of both her ancestors and her mother.
“Mother always thought it was important we understood our heritage and family contributions,” Luallen said.
Therefore, Eugenia Crittenden Blackburn has always been known as “Crit.”
“But we were not groomed for any role.”
Retired Louisville Courier-Journal editor David Hawpe was among the audience at the ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.
“She’s walking Kentucky history,” Hawpe said.
“It may be the men of my family who began this journey, but I have eight nieces, eight grand-nieces, a stepdaughter and her two strong daughters that I hope we are paving the way for,” Luallen told the audience.
It was not only her husband of 30 years, Lynn, but also siblings and those nieces who joined Luallen; several dozen friends and colleagues were also there peering over the crowd to catch a first glimpse of the portrait.
Her oldest brother, Sam Blackburn, retired from Farmers Bank, says he remembers his sister as scrawny and a quiet kid.
“There were six of us, and Crit is the baby. There is 13 years difference, and Crit often tells people I am her father,” he said laughing.
Luallen joined the conversation to set the record straight in case her brother was exaggerating. It was obvious that the family enjoyed humor at their own expense.
“She has been known to lie a little, especially about me,” her oldest brother said.
Also present at the Women Remembered event were lifelong friends who had known Luallen since grade school, and others who had either worked with her in her 40 years of public service or have known her friendship.
Hollie Hopkins, now general counsel for Beshear, attended Capital Day School with the Frankfort native.
“Though Crit was several years older, even then I admired her,” Hopkins said.
“I feel as if I have known her all my life and believe she is personally and professionally beyond reproach.”
Her lifelong friend, Bob Stewart, was with Luallen when she attended Frankfort High School, and the two went to Centre College, the school where her ancestor was its first president.
Now Luallen serves on its board as she has for more than a dozen years.
From the mailroom
“We both started out in the mailroom together,” Stewart laughed.
“Talk about the ground floor. Crit was in the mailroom in the basement of Democratic headquarters working on Gov. Wendell Ford’s campaign bid for United States senator, and I was in the basement mailroom of the Capitol working for Ford as governor.”
The political arena wasn’t necessarily where Luallen thought she would be – her early passion was for art and so was her college major. Many say that influence came from her artistic, creative mother who worked for the Kentucky Historical Society.
Using her talent from earlier times, Luallen designed Derby Breakfast invitations and other pieces of artwork for the state.
“I’ll always be indebted to Crit,” said Bill Graham, a retired circuit judge.
“She designed my first poster when I ran for district judge in 1977.”
Graham was among the Frankfort delegation in the Capitol to see Luallen honored.
“She is now and always has been the best,” Graham said as he applauded his friend.
Luallen’s talent was quickly recognized by others, and before 1976 and the nation’s bicentennial she was appointed to the Kentucky Bicentennial Commission.
She left state government in 1977 and formed her own political consulting and graphic design business.
But the political bug had bitten Luallen, and she returned to state government in 1980 to work as a special assistant to Lois Mateus in the state’s public information department.
“I was enthralled and fascinated by the political process,” she told The State Journal in an interview following the awards ceremony.
It became a quick rise from the mailroom for the Frankfort native that George Russell met in 1982 during the campaign of Gov. Martha Layne Collins.
“People recognized Crit could do anything.”
And over the next 30 years she did.
According to Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd, Luallen’s rise was no surprise.
“She had the remarkable ability to work with people, and she had the intellectual ability to work on complex issues,” Shepherd said.
Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom from the 79th district in Fayette County is also a Luallen admirer.
“She is the finest example of a person of substance in this state,” Westrom said.
But the question for many in the Capitol Rotunda appeared to be what will the 59-year-old do next?
Beshear ticked off her service, calling her cool, calm and collected.
“Crit has worked in budget, finance, tourism, and arts. She served as secretary of the cabinet for one governor for seven years and was elected twice to the position of state auditor.”
Specifically, she was state budget director, secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet, secretary of the Tourism Cabinet, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of the Arts, special assistant to Gov. Martha Layne Collins, president of the Greater Louisville Economic Development Partnership and served as secretary of Gov. Paul Patton’s Executive Cabinet for seven years.
She completed two elected terms as the state’s auditor of public accounts in December.
‘Brains and guts’
“It took both brains and guts to oversee the state’s finances, and Crit has both,” Beshear said.
Beshear gave voice to those words that many have whispered.
“We hope that public service is not over.”
While many, including Hawpe, believe that Luallen would be one of the most knowledgeable governors with her broad experience and knowledge of the state’s inner workings, her closest allies fear she may never enter a governor’s race.
“I’ve encouraged her to make a race for U.S. senator, but Crit feels she has more to offer serving the state in Frankfort,” Hawpe said.
“She’d make a great governor – if – she ever decides to run.”
“Crit would be a triple threat. She has administrative, policy and budget experience. She is definitely the best prepared to hold the position.”
Rotarian Wallace Kent also broached the subject of Luallen’s intent to run for governor, saying he was involved in discussions during morning coffee hour at McDonald’s with friends and her oldest brother, Sam.
Grinning, Luallen said, “Don’t listen to Sam. He is already planning on being my inauguration parade chairman.”
Rest assured Luallen is not curled up at home sitting in front of a fire reading books. As she has over the years, she is still busy serving on boards, lending her name to causes and supporting friends who are seeking public office.
She currently serves on the board of Community Trust Bank and the recently created Kentucky Cancer Fund board that will raise money for those without the financial resources to pay for screenings. She is on the board of the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Kentucky, the Kentucky Historical Society and Centre College.
The Boy Scouts are not the first group to benefit from Luallen’s departure from public service.
In response to how she would like to be honored when she left the auditor’s office, Luallen chose a venue that supports her passion – Emerge Kentucky – a non-profit that prepares Democratic women to pursue elected positions.
The roast in Louisville sold out, drawing more than 500 and provided the opportunity for her friends and colleagues to honor her.
As for how Luallen responds to yet the unanswered question – her foray into a race for governor – the answer is more Luallen with a nod to the influence of the multitude of her historical ancestors.
“My interest lies in helping this state move forward, but my ultimate decision will be what’s right for me.”