Scandal-plagued former Kentucky Governor Julian Carroll dies

 December 12, 2023

Julian Carroll, the former Democratic governor of Kentucky whose career was marked by corruption and sexual abuse scandals, has died. He was 92.

As governor, he kept the legislature on such a tight leash that one lawmaker remarked a cockroach could not crawl across the floor without his say-so.

Over the course of a controversial career, Carroll also served in the state House and state Senate.

Governor dies

A lawyer by training, Carroll first gained public notice in 1960 when he led a campaign to allow the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to provide low-cost electricity to his native McCracken County, in western Kentucky.

He was first elected to the state House in 1962, where he served five terms and was briefly House Speaker, before rising to the position of Lieutenant governor under Wendell Ford.

When Ford left to run for the Senate in 1974, Caroll became governor. A year later, Caroll won election to a full term.

During the Arab oil embargo, Carroll used money from the coal severance tax to reform education, raising teacher salaries and providing free textbooks. He also ended the state's private bail bond system.

Carroll cast a large shadow over the state Capitol in Frankfort. As State Sen. Kelsey Friend observed: “My Gawd, a cockroach couldn’t crawl across the Senate floor without an OK from the governor stamped on its back.”

Career marked by scandal

Carroll's career as governor ended in a kickback scandal. The governor was found to have given contracts and appointments in exchange for favors, including free plane rides to the Bahamas.

He was never charged, but an ally of his, Kentucky Democratic Party chair Howard “Sonny” Hunt, pled guilty and served time in prison.

Carroll would make a failed effort to reclaim the governor's mansion in 1987, finishing last in the Democratic primary. In 2004, Caroll won election to the state Senate.

In 2017, Carroll was accused of groping a young man and pressuring him for sex in exchange for help to get into art school. The disturbing 2005 incident was captured on audio tape; a state police investigation led to no charges.

Carroll refused calls to resign from the state Senate before eventually retiring in 2020.

The state's Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, called Carroll a "dedicated" public servant.

He was predeceased by his wife of 60 years, Charlann Harting Carroll.

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