The 3 E’s with Lt. Gov Jenean Hampton
Allow me to introduce you to Kentucky’s newly-elected Lieutenant Governor, Jenean Hampton. She doesn’t want to be called the ‘first’ anything, but she is, in fact, the first African-American to ever hold statewide office in Kentucky.
An Air Force officer of 7 years, Lt. Gov. Hampton ran her race as a private citizen and considers her 2015 win to be an honor. “I’m grateful to have this opportunity to serve,” she told me. Lt. Governor Hampton was clear that service is something she values in life. And, for her, service is personal – it’s an extension of her former military service.
You can read the specifics of Lt. Gov. Hampton’s biography here. Her story is inspiring; there is no doubt about that. But, for the purpose of this piece, I wanted to take the opportunity to write about the Lt. Gov.’s perspective on how gender plays into her political motivation and recent political race. You can read about her thoughts below.
Growing up, did you have any female political mentors or role models? And, if not political, who were your female role models?
At first take, Lt. Gov. Hampton’s answer was no, not really –and then it was yes.
Lt. Gov. Hampton told me that she had no female, political mentors or role models. Although she noted that, growing up, she liked what she knew of Margaret Thatcher – “after all, she worked well with Ronald Reagan.”
“I never aspired to political office,” Lt. Gov. Hamtpon said. In fact, she wanted to be an astronaut. She remembers that it was the first astronaut who wore glasses — not the first female astronaut or first black astronaut – who inspired her. She wore glasses, and this mission specialist was proof that she had a shot. Lt. Gov. Hampton added, “I assumed, growing up, that women could do anything.”
Lt. Gov. Hampton stressed again that she did not grow up with political aspirations, so there were no specific political, female role models. But upon further reflection, she told me that her mother was the greatest role model in her life, even to this day. A woman – who did not graduate from high school and who was a single mother of four girls – was the single, greatest role model in the Lt. Gov.’s life. Hampton recounted how she watched her mom stretch a budget like no one else. From her mom she learned that “the right thing isn’t always easy, and the easy thing isn’t always right.” Today, her mom lives with the Lt. Gov. and has a fan club following of her own.
In the course of our discussion, Lt. Gov. Hampton recalled how impressed she was with some of her contemporary, female Lieutenant Governors. She had the opportunity to meet with several Lt. Gov.’s after winning her primary. Specifically, she looks forward to spending more time with Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann (IN), Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (WI), and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds (IA).
Are there any specific policy goals or projects that you are hoping to achieve in this first term as Lt. Governor that will specifically affect girls or women? I ask this as women make up over 50% of the voting electorate, today.
Lt. Governor Hampton stressed that she is focused on all people. Her approach, as a public servant, is to take care of everyone. Her focus in this first term will be on what she calls, the 3E’s:
Entrepreneurship: She would like to foster a start-up climate in Kentucky. And, she wants to strengthen the relationship between universities in the state and the Kentucky Innovation Office.
Education: She wants to focus on all forms of education. And, she hopes to encourage people to be life-long learners. Life-long learning is more important than any common core fight.
Example: Lt. Governor Hampton wants to set a strong example for the citizens of the state. Specifically, she said, “I want to be an example to those people who don’t think they have a shot at the American dream.” And, yes, this includes kids. “I never aspired to be the first anything,” she explained. “People are quick to qualify me as the first, black, female Lt. Governor.” For the Lt. Gov., the mission is simple: she wants to be an example to the citizens of her state, to all people. “And, if that gears up women and girls, then great!”
She remembers one little girl at a campaign event touching her hand. They were at a school, and the girl told Hampton that she wanted to be President. The girl was not from a high- or, even, middle-income part of the state. Lt. Gov. Hampton hopes she can continue to feed that dream through example.
What advice would you offer to women who are contemplating a run for office?
“I’d give the same advice to anyone: jump in, please. Jump in and run.” She noted that people who had never contemplated a run for office are now deciding to run for various offices. Like Governor Bevin and herself, “you can be a private citizen who decides to serve your community, and you can win.”
“The hardest part is asking people for money,” she continued. “You have to learn to make the case for yourself.” Her advice is to start with friends and family, and make lists of everyone you know. She promises that you will get better at it, with practice.
Was there anything particularly challenging, from either your 2014 race or this most recent race, that you attribute specifically to gender?
“For me it was a lack of name recognition – and this has nothing to do with gender or race,” she said. “And then there was the issue of uniting the base after a four-way primary.” (To this, as a Republican strategist, I sigh and think – what is it with the huge number of Republicans in their primaries?)
In closing, I applaud Lt. Gov. Hampton for believing in herself enough to run and win. This is something that more women should internalize no matter what we are embarking on. As she said, we need to ‘jump in.’ From a woman who served in the US Air Force and was on the ground in Operation Desert Storm, to a woman who is now the first African-American, female Lt. Governor of Kentucky (but could care less about being a first) – I admire her will, humbleness, and commitment to service. She is a lesson in and off herself.
Sarah Lenti is the founder of her political consulting firm, SML Advisory Partners. Sarah’s clients range widely from candidates and politicians to international non-profits, independent documentary films, and Super PACs. Previously, she served under Dr. Condoleezza Rice at the National Security Council, worked on three Presidential election campaigns, and led the policy research for Governor Mitt Romney’s book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. Connect with Sarah on Twitter with the hashtags #PrimaryHurdles and #GOPWomen.