Election 2023: Russell Coleman and Pam Stevenson for attorney general
Published 4:27 pm Tuesday, October 24, 2023
This is the fifth in a series examining down ballot races, which include agricultural commissioner, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and attorney general.
The attorney general is the chief law officer of Kentucky.
They are responsible for defending the commonwealth and its people, which includes fighting for consumers, ensuring open government, fighting crime, protecting vulnerable populations and promoting quality health care.
Republican Russell Coleman and Democrat Pam Stevenson will be on the ballot for the office in November.
Coleman has an extensive law enforcement background.
He’s served as an FBI special agent domestically and in Iraq, a state prosecutor in several Kentucky counties, a member of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s staff focused on drug policy and law enforcement and as a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky, the chief federal law enforcement officer for half of the state.
He’s also run his own private practice.
Colonel Stevenson has also worn many hats. She served 27 years in the U.S. Air Force, where one of her roles was chief prosecutor, directing actions of law enforcement agencies and taking care of families on the base.
Stevenson is also an ordained minister, started a nonprofit law firm to help veterans, elderly and children after completing her military service, has spent nearly 40 years as a practicing attorney and has served as a state representative for the Louisville area since 2020.
Why are you running?
Coleman said he has always had a passion for law enforcement, and would still be an FBI special agent if not for a career-ending injury.
“This job, the attorney general’s office, is that mixture of the two things I love most – serving in law enforcement, being a law man and Kentucky.”
Stevenson said she wants to continue protecting the most vulnerable.
“I learned in my 27-year military career, even though they sent me to places where I was not wanted, to where I didn’t speak the language, I had to perform on behalf of America,” she said. “I want to do the same thing for Kentucky.”
What do you bring to the job?
Coleman said that in every stage of his career, building relationships has been critical.
On day one, he said he would be able to leverage those relationships with Kentucky law enforcement officials to bring people together to solve major issues, like the opioid crisis.
“I know Kentucky,” he said. “I come to this job with a sense of calling and a sense of purpose, a great deal of urgency.”
Stevenson said that her military service prepared her to be a leader who can get people to march in the same direction, while her public service as a state representative has shown her how things work in the background.
“I know how to put together a bill,” she said. “I know how to read a bill. I know how to talk to legislators. I know how to bring them together and make sure that this bill doesn’t have any unintended consequences.”
Coleman has three priorities, which mostly continue the work he did as a U.S. attorney.
First, he wants to address the opioid crisis, including by securing the border. He said that by joining with other conservative attorney generals across the nation, he can help push the federal administration to do more.
Coleman said he was “very interested in evaluating the prospect of ibogaine” with a portion of the opioid settlement funds, but did not explicitly endorse it.
He said that successfully addressing the issue included aggressive prosecution of drug traffickers, a statewide prevention effort in schools and incentivized treatment using the threat of incarceration.
As attorney general, he said he would adopt a sense of urgency and support adequate funding for each of those components.
Second, Coleman would continue to fight violence in urban and rural Kentucky. He said that this starts by ensuring that local prosecutors get the training and resources they need.
He was appointed to serve on Trump’s national commission on law enforcement and police reform, focusing on officer recruitment and retention. He said that in that role, he learned about several creative solutions he would consider as attorney general.
“We’re going to have to address how we pay,” Coleman said. “We’re going to have to look at retirement. We’re going to have to address officer wellness. It is a significant elephant. It’s going to have to be just one bite at a time.”
Third, Coleman would push back against a Biden “agenda” he sees as unconstitutional and overreaching.
“It’s not indicating that the agencies can’t regulate. It’s simply keeping them within their lane and allowing states to function as as as independent entities, not an overreach,” he said. “There’s plenty for the United States government to do that doesn’t involve regulating my gas stove.”
Stevenson’s first promise is to be the people’s lawyer, to use the civil law side of the office to take care of Kentucky’s most vulnerable citizens, including the elderly, people with disabilities, veterans and children in foster care.
“This office has so much power in terms of helping everyday Kentuckians” she said. “… No family can go after a big company. No family can build roads. No family can enforce the federal government.”
Second, she wants to combat what she calls legislative overreach. She said the legislature is focused on the wrong issues, and she wants to take the politics out of it.
“We are designed to be for the people by the people to serve people, not tell the people how to live their life, not tell the people who to love not tell the people what they can do with their bodies,” she said.
“…We are in this odd situation where people’s personal opinions are becoming the law. And it doesn’t fit everyone.”
Third, Stevenson would address the opioid crisis in a few steps. She is committed to a listening tour across Kentucky to talk to county leaders and residents to hear how they would like to use opioid settlement funds.
“The opioid crisis has hit every county differently,” she said. “It’s not a one size fits all philosophy.”
Additionally, she wants to go after corporations and people who bring drugs into Kentucky aggressively, while ensuring that victims of addiction are not criminalized and instead get treatment.
On abortion exceptions
In an October interview, Coleman said that he supported rape and incest exceptions to abortion.
“While I will enforce the law as passed by the General Assembly, that’s the job, I am pro-life, but I support the exceptions for rape and for incest, to not re-traumatize these women, and I would ask – call on the General Assembly to take a hard look at that issue,” he said.
Coleman is endorsed by several pro-life groups, and many pro-choice groups don’t believe that his statement is genuine.
Stevenson said that Coleman was changing his opinion to “fit in with the polling.”
She has said she believed in the right to privacy, including the decision to have an abortion.
“I will always follow the law, but it doesn’t mean I will not fight to change the law that’s inappropriately applied, a law that should not have happened, a law that doesn’t speak for the majority of Kentuckians and just a fringe few,” she said.
How do you distinguish yourself from your opponent?
Coleman said that he has a lot of respect for Stevenson’s service.
“My focus is what I bring to this race, what I would bring to the office,” he said. “I’ve been barred and licensed in Kentucky for 20 years, which I think is an important point.”
Coleman is referring to a common critique of Stevenson, which is that she is not officially barred in Kentucky. However, Stevenson said this criticism is misleading, since she does have 40 years of experience as an attorney, and could go into court today.
She contends that she is more qualified than the current attorney general and Coleman, who both have fewer years of experience as attorneys than her.
“I am a people person that will stand and fight for people,” Stevenson said. “My opponent is not that; he’s another Mitch McConnell person seeking power, wanting to make sure that he can continue his quest to be like Mitch.”