Republican Hal Heiner said Tuesday he wants to use his business experience to steer state government away from the "same path of mediocrity," as the former Louisville councilman entered next year's wide open race for Kentucky governor.
Heiner joined his running mate, former Lexington-Fayette County councilwoman KC Crosbie, at the campaign's kickoff event in Lexington. Crosbie narrowly lost her race for state treasurer in 2011, a year when Democrats dominated most statewide races.
The 62-year-old Heiner, an engineer and developer, said Kentucky's government is in dire need of leadership and innovation. His "Kentucky First" campaign theme, he said, stresses his goal of improving the state's lackluster performance in jobs and income growth.
"I'm not interested in watching our state government continue down the same path of mediocrity we have been on for the past 50 years," Heiner said in a prepared text. "I am interested in changing to a new course, one where we unlock Kentucky's vast potential and become the best location in the country at attracting great jobs, one where our education system helps all our children succeed and one where our people enjoy a higher standard of living."
Heiner is well known in Kentucky's largest city, where he served two terms on the Louisville Metro Council and lost a hard-fought campaign for mayor in 2010. He also brings considerable personal wealth into the race.
Heiner said his campaign will focus on "big ideas and lofty goals," but he sounded mostly broad themes in his speech. He called for more parental choice to improve an education system that he said leaves too many students unprepared for college or a career.
Another potential Republican gubernatorial candidate, state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, said he doubted many Kentuckians are thinking about an election more than a year away.
The 2015 Republican primary is about 14 months away.
"I don't think he's going to garner much attention unless he starts paying for it with his checkbook," Comer said in a phone interview.
Comer said that Heiner's head start as an official candidate wouldn't alter his own timetable in deciding whether to enter the governor's race. Comer said he's focused on doing his job as agriculture commissioner and helping get Republicans elected this year.
"I think I'm in a very strong position," he said.
Another potential candidate Republican candidate for governor is Louisville businesswoman Cathy Bailey. Potential Democratic candidates include Attorney General Jack Conway, state Auditor Adam Edelen, former Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and former Auditor Crit Luallen.
Democrat Steve Beshear is in the middle of his second term as governor. Governors are limited to two terms in Kentucky.