FRANKFORT, Ky. — Former U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman entered the suddenly wide-open race for attorney general in Kentucky on Thursday, vowing to deliver a crackdown on violent crime and drug trafficking while pointing to his extensive criminal justice resume.
Coleman, a Republican, touted his ties to ex-President Donald Trump, who appointed him U.S. attorney for the western half of Kentucky. His tenure as U.S. attorney ended when Trump left the White House in early 2021 after his election defeat.
Coleman's career includes stints as an FBI special agent, assistant commonwealth's attorney and senior adviser and legal counsel to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.
“My plan is to build a safer commonwealth for everyone, from the big cities to the small towns of Kentucky,” Coleman said in announcing his candidacy.
He jumped into the 2023 GOP primary a day after current Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron launched his bid for governor next year. Coleman said he already had lined up more than 50 endorsements from local prosecutors, sheriffs, police chiefs, city and county officials and others.
Coleman's entry into the AG's race reflects the intense jockeying under way in preparation for 2023.
Open seats also will be up for grabs for at least three other statewide offices: state auditor, state treasurer and agriculture commissioner. The incumbents, all Republicans, are term-limited. Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles and state Auditor Mike Harmon already have announced bids for governor. State Treasurer Allison Ball is considering a run for state auditor.
After Cameron joined the governor's race, Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams said on social media that he's now considering a run for attorney general. Adams also is weighing whether to seek a second term as Kentucky's top election official.
Coleman offered a tough-on-crime agenda on his first day as a candidate. Targets would include drug trafficking, child exploitation and elder fraud, he said.
The goal is “stopping the people who are poisoning our communities with deadly drugs and using technology to target our kids, parents and grandparents,” he said.
“I think when people break our laws and put others in danger, they deserve to be thrown in jail,” Coleman said.
Fatal drug overdoses in Kentucky surged nearly 50% in 2020, according to a state report last summer. A key factor was the prevalence of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid increasingly added to other illicit drugs to boost potency.
Coleman said enforcement alone won’t solve the state’s long-running drug woes; prevention and treatment also play crucial roles, he noted.
“Enforcement’s important ... but we must use that bully pulpit at the AG’s office to talk about treatment, to talk about prevention,” he said in a phone interview. "They must go hand in glove.”
Coleman also stressed his opposition to abortion and support for Second Amendment gun rights.
He also promised to use the AG's office to promote collaboration among law enforcement agencies, and to offer support to local prosecutors.
“The most important prosecutor to any Kentuckian is your local commonwealth and county attorney," he said. "That’s the most impactful person to you and to most families. The role of the AG’s office is to make sure those prosecutors are well supported with resources.”