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Wendell Hampton Ford (born September 8, 1924) is an Americanmarker politician from Kentuckymarker who belongs to the Democratic Party. He was considered to be the leader of the state's Democratic Party from his election to governor in 1971 until his retirement from the Senate in 1999.

Early life

Ford was born in Owensboro, Kentuckymarker. His father was a state senator and ally of Kentucky Governor Earle Clements. Ford graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1943, where he also became a member of Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity. Ford served in the United States Army during World War II.

Political career

Ford served as the top assistant to Governor Bert T. Combs from 1959 to 1963. In 1963 Ford returned to Owensboro after his mother's death to help his father in the family insurance agency.

Early state offices

Although it was speculated he would run for Lieutenant Governor in 1963, Ford insisted he did not decide to reenter politics until Governor Edward Breathitt asked him in 1965 to run against Casper "Cap" Gardner, the State Senate's majority leader and a major obstacle to Breathitt's program of progressive legislation.

Ford won his first election by only 305 votes but quickly became a key player in the state senate. In 1967 he ran for Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky, this time against the wishes of Breathitt and Bert Combs, whose pick was Attorney General Robert Matthews. Again it was an extremely close election as Ford defeated Matthews by 631 votes, just 0.2% of the total vote count in the primary.

Ford ran an independent campaign and was able to easily win in the general election even as Combs-Breathitt pick Henry Ward lost the race for governor to Republican Louie B. Nunn. During his time as Lieutenant Governor Ford rebuilt the state's Democratic machine, which would help elect himself and others to statewide office, including Senator Walter Huddleston and Governor Martha Layne Collins.

Governor of Kentucky

Ford served as Lieutenant Governor until 1971, when he ran against his former mentor Combs in the Democratic primary. As Lieutenant Governor Ford had opposed a hike in the sales tax which Combs had supported, but attributed his unlikely win over Combs in the primary to superior strategy and Combs' underestimation of Ford's chances. Ford won the general election over Republican Tom Emberton in November.

As Governor, Ford successfully urged the legislature to exempt food from the sales tax and pass reforms of the state's criminal justice system. Ford's primary success was largely due to carrying Jefferson Countymarker, and he returned the favor by approving funds to build the Commonwealth Convention Centermarker and expand the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Centermarker.Ford also oversaw the transition of the University of Louisvillemarker from municipal to state funding. He pushed for various reforms to the state's education system, giving up his own chairmanship of the University of Kentucky board of trustees, giving budget power to a non-partisan committee and extending voting rights to student and faculty members of university boards. These changes generally shifted administration positions in the state's colleges from political rewards to professional appointments.

Ford served as Governor until 1974 when he was elected to the United States Senate.

Corruption probe

In the wake of the rapid ascent of Ford and members of his faction to the major political offices of the state, he and his successor as Governor, Julian Carroll, were investigated for corruption for their actions as governor. The 4-year probe began in 1977 and focused on an alleged state insurance kickback scheme that operated during Ford's tenure as governor. Investigators believed there was an arrangement in which insurance companies getting government contracts split commissions with party officials, although Ford was suspected of conspiring to allow the practice for political benefits rather than personally profiting financially from it.

In 1981, prosecutors asked for indictments against Ford and Carroll on racketeering charges but a grand jury refused. Because grand jury proceedings are secret, what exactly occurred has never been publicly revealed. However, state Republicans charged over the years that Ford took the Fifth Amendment while on the stand, invoking his right against self-incrimination. Ford refused to confirm or deny this report.

United States Senate

Ford defeated incumbent Republican Marlow Cook in 1974, personally completing his revitalization of the state's Democratic party by ousting the last Republican from major office. Cook resigned his seat in December so that Ford would have a higher standing in seniority in the Senate. He was reelected in 1980, 1986 and 1992. From 1991 to 1999 he served as Democratic Senate whip, the number two position among Senate Democrats, serving as Senate Majority Whip until 1995 and as Minority Whip until 1999.

Ford was content to be a back-room dealer in the senate, staying away from the national spotlight, moderating differences between various factions in the party and securing legislation that would benefit his state. His role brokering compromises between Democrats was bolstered by positions as party whip and chairman of the Rules Committee.

Ford was known nationally for his support of tobacco growers as he advocated for tobacco price-support and against higher tobacco taxes. Kentucky's largest newspaper, the Courier-Journal, called Ford "tobacco's strongest champion in Washington" and said his departure from the Senate marked the end of an era of government protection for tobacco. In the Senate Ford also found funding to expand both large and small Kentucky airports and secured health benefits for coal miners. Near the time of his retirement he said of his career: "I wasn't interested in national issues, I was interested in Kentucky issues." He listed his successful sponsorship of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 as one of his favorite accomplishments of his senate career.

His overall voting record was moderate to conservative. Early in his career he supported a constitutional amendment against busing for school desegregation and he voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993. Ford chose to retire in 1998; his open seat was won by Republican Jim Bunning.

His senate legacy was praised by Al Gore among others, including Robert Schwarz Strauss, who said "No state was better represented in the United States Senate than Kentucky was when it had Wendell Ford there." Others, such as John Stempel, a professor at the University of Kentuckymarker, said Ford "could have taken a more active role in foreign affairs".

Electoral History



1Cook resigned his seat in December so that Ford would have a higher standing in seniority in the Senate.

Retirement

Ford didn't run for a fifth term in 1998, electing instead to retire to Owensboro, although he worked for a time as a consultant to Washington lobbying and law firm Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky.

Ford was the longest-serving senator in Kentucky history. Because of his achievements and long-standing commitment to public service in Kentucky, the Western Kentucky Parkway (which runs from Eddyvillemarker to Elizabethtownmarker) and the U.S.60by-pass (around Ford's hometown of Owensboro) both bear his name.

Ford was active in the Jaycees, serving as the 38th President of the US Junior Chamber.

Ford currently teaches politics to the youth of the Owensboro, Kentucky community from the Owensboro Museum of Science and History, which houses a replica of Ford's Senate office.

References



External links



U.S.
Senate (General Election)
Year
Candidate
Party
Pct
Opponent
Party
Pct
1974
Wendell H. Ford1
Democratic
53.5%
Marlow Cook
Republican
44.1%
1980
Wendell H. Ford (inc.)
Democratic
65.1%
Mary L. Foust
Republican
34.9%
1986
Wendell H. Ford (inc.)
Democratic
74.3%
Jackson M. Andrews
Republican
25.7%
1992
Wendell H. Ford (inc.)
Democratic
62.9%
David Williams
Republican
35.8%

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