Kentucky Republican Daniel Cameron picks conservative senator as running mate in race for governor

Jul 19, 2023, 6:17 AM | Updated: 10:14 am

FILE - Kentucky Attorney General and Republican candidate for Governor Daniel Cameron, speaks to su...

FILE - Kentucky Attorney General and Republican candidate for Governor Daniel Cameron, speaks to supporters during the first stop of his multi-city campaign tour in Richmond, Ky., on June 2, 2023. Cameron selected state legislator Robby Mills as his running mate on Wednesday, July 18, in Kentucky's race for governor. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican Daniel Cameron selected state legislator Robby Mills as his running mate Wednesday in Kentucky’s race for governor, turning to a steadfast conservative with a record of shepherding pro-coal and anti-transgender legislation that fits into his campaign themes.

Cameron, the state’s attorney general, introduced Mills to the campaign at an event that drew a bevy of the party’s faithful, including lawmakers and state officeholders.

Choosing from a deep GOP bench, Cameron ended weeks of speculation about his lieutenant governor pick since emerging as his party’s gubernatorial nominee in May to challenge Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear. Cameron adds a GOP state senator to the ticket whose resume includes running his family business, ousting Democratic incumbents and sponsoring bills popular with Republicans.

In looking for a running mate, Cameron said he wanted a “true conservative” who shares his values and has a “strong track record of getting things done.” Mills fits that description, Cameron said.

Mills called his entry into the statewide race as Cameron’s running mate “an honor of a lifetime.” He immediately plunged into his campaign role, playing up Cameron’s credentials while lambasting the governor’s record on such issues as the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-transgender legislation.

Mills represents a district in western Kentucky — a mostly rural region that has shifted heavily toward the GOP in recent years. The sprawling region is seen by Cameron’s campaign as crucial to its strategy of overcoming Beshear’s expected advantage in the state’s largest cities.

Beshear has his own deep ties to western Kentucky. His father, former two-term Gov. Steve Beshear, grew up in Dawson Springs — a town that’s in Mills’ Senate district.

Mills had a hand in crafting relief legislation after tornadoes devastated parts of western Kentucky, including in his district. Beshear was front and center after the storm hit and was widely praised for mobilizing state support for the region in its aftermath.

Kentucky’s showdown for governor is one of the nation’s most closely watched campaigns this year and could provide insight about voter sentiment heading into 2024 elections to determine control of the White House and Congress. Beshear is seeking a second term in November with incumbent Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman as his running mate. Coleman’s experience as a teacher and school administrator has reinforced the governor’s theme of an education-first agenda.

Beshear’s campaign quickly linked Mills to an ill-fated plan to make changes to the state pension system. The measure — passed several years ago by the GOP-led legislature and signed by the then-Republican governor — spurred protests by teachers. The law was struck down by the state Supreme Court.

“Choosing a lieutenant governor is the first major decision a candidate for governor makes — it demonstrates their judgment and values,” the Beshear campaign said in a statement.

With his selection, Cameron turned to a lawmaker who shares his decidedly right-leaning philosophy. He praised Mills as a “rock-ribbed conservative” and someone of “great faith” who can team with him to promote campaign priorities. Cameron has focused on a host of social issues, including abortion and transgender issues.

“It was Robby Mills who was the first person in Frankfort to sound the alarm about radical gender ideology,” Cameron said.

Mills is best known in the legislature as the chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee and sponsor of a host of high-profile bills. In his chairmanship role, Mills has gotten to know local officials from across the state — which could be valuable connections in the campaign.

Mills led the legislative fight to ban transgender girls and women from participating in school sports matching their gender identity. Beshear vetoed the bill, prompting successful override votes by the legislature. On the campaign trail, Cameron has hammered away at the governor’s veto.

Mills also sponsored bills to defend the state’s coal industry and require Kentucky residents to show a government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Cameron plays up his own support for the coal sector.

Mills was elected to the Kentucky Senate in 2018, defeating a Democratic incumbent by fewer than 500 votes. In 2022, Mills won reelection with 66% of the vote. In 2016, he ousted a Democratic incumbent to serve a term in the Kentucky House. Prior to that, he served as a city commissioner in Henderson.

Mills’ family has owned a regional dry-cleaning business for decades. Playing up his running mate’s business background, Cameron said Mills “knows how to meet a payroll” and understands how taxes and government regulations can affect businesses.

Cameron and Mills immediately hit the campaign trail, with stops planned in the coming days.

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Kentucky Republican Daniel Cameron picks conservative senator as running mate in race for governor