Remembering Wendell H. Ford (1924-2015)

Wendell H. Ford Bust at Daviess Co. Courthouse. Nate Kissel.
I, along with the rest of the Commonwealth, learned this morning of the passing of one of Kentucky's political greats of the 20th century. Wendell H. Ford was 90. In 2012, NRK wrote Along the Elkhorn Vale about the former Kentucky Governor and US Senator and revised excerpts from that post are included below:

Although it would have been fitting to place the bust of Wendell H. Ford anywhere in the Commonwealth, it appropriately sits on the courthouse lawn in Owensboro. Wendell H. Ford was born in Owensboro in 1924.

From 1967-71, he served as the Lieutenant Governor during the administration of Gov. Louie Nunn. He was then elected Governor, serving from 1971-1974. From the Governor's Mansion, Ford ran for and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974. Ford, a Democrat, served Kentucky in Washington from 1974 until 1999. His service was marked with stints as both minority and majority whip.

Ford was born in Daviess County in 1924. After serving in the Army, he went to school and entered the insurance business with his father. Ford then entered politics by serving as an executive assistant for Governor Bert T. Combs. For a short time, Ford served in the state senate before being elected Lieutenant Governor in an era when the Governor and his Lieutenant were separately elected. This resulted in the unusual situation where Gov. Nunn, a Republican, had Lt. Gov. Ford, a Democrat, a heartbeat away from the Governors Mansion. During his time as Lieutenant Governor, Ford essentially rebuilt the organization of the Democratic party in the Commonwealth.

His election as Governor in 1971 resulted in his overcoming one former governor in the Democratic primary (Brett Combs) and another in the general (Happy Chandler mounted an independent bid to retake his old position). By defeating two former, popular Democratic governors, Ford cemented his stronghold on his political party and end some of the sectionalism that had traditionally plagued state Democrats.

The Wendell Ford administration was marked by efforts toward efficient government, consolidation, and raising certain taxes. The coal severance tax was imposed and both the corporate tax and the gasoline tax were raised; these revenues helped to offset the elimination of the sales tax on food items. Kentucky also passed the Equal Rights Amendment and the University of Louisville was transferred to state control while Wendell Ford was governor.

In 1974, Ford ran for and was elected to the U.S. Senate. In Washington, Ford was decisively pro-Kentucky, pro-coal, and pro-tobacco. Among his accomplishments, the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act reduced aircraft noise and required airlines to better inform consumers. He supported the increase in the federal minimum wage, welfare reform, research of clean coal technology, and increased retirement benefits for coal miners. A final accomplishment which would have saved the government millions of dollars by using recycled paper and printing in volume through a centralized printing operation was never realized because Congress became stymied in the 1998 impeachment trial of President Clinton.

After Ford's retirement in 1998, his Senate seat became occupied by Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer Jim Bunning, a Republican. Ford's public papers are at the Owensboro Museum of Science and History along with a replica of his Senate office.

He was a great Kentuckian. A true icon and ambassador for the Commonwealth.