Kentucky has a new lieutenant governor who is making history as the first African-American elected to statewide office in the Bluegrass state.
Much like Carson, Kentucky’s new second-in-command is not a career politician. And at a time when sisters are doing things such as building a new #BlackLivesMatter movement to fight racism and police violence against black people, Hampton is one of the few black women in the country who is down with the Tea Party. And the top of her ticket, Matt Bevin, the governor-elect with whom she ran as running mate, apparently is down with white supremacists. But we’ll get to that later.
Also like Dr. Ben Carson, the 57-year-old Tea party activist from Bowling Green was born and raised in Detroit. Her mother — who did not have a high school diploma and cleaned homes — and her father — who worked in the automobile industry — divorced when Hampton was 7. Her mother was left to take care for Hampton and her three sisters.
Hampton worked her way through college in the auto industry and earned a degree in industrial engineering from Wayne State University in 1985. She later joined the Air Force and was deployed to Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Storm, where she was a captain. Hampton is married to retired Air Force Officer Doyle Issak.
The new lieutenant governor reportedly switched to the Republican party after being inspired by Ronald Reagan and connecting with his ideology and sense of optimism about the American Dream. But her father went to his grave angry “that I’m conservative, Republican, didn’t support Obama — he just could not wrap his arms around that,” she said. Last year, she unsuccessfully ran for Congress and received an endorsement from Rand Paul.
“I just see myself as a person, I don’t see myself as ‘Jenean, black person,’” Hampton told Louisville’s Courier-Journal while on the campaign trail. “I’m just Jenean who happens to be black.”
As Berry Craig of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO notes, the anti-labor Bevin and Hampton have waged a “holy war against unions,” with Hampton saying she is “absolutely, adamantly” opposed to a minimum wage increase, calling it a “disaster waiting to happen.” And she said that Head Start — the federal early childhood education program — is being used for the “indoctrination” of young children, although she never really explained what she meant by that.
Bevin and Hampton won with a 53 percent to 44 percent margin against Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway (D), the second time in only 44 years that the GOP claimed the governorship in Kentucky.
Bevin, a rightwing extremist, vows to eliminate Medicaid expansion under Obamacare for 400,000 people in Kentucky. During the campaign, he palled around with the John Birch Society, which claimed the civil rights movement was a communist plot to form “a Negro Soviet Republic in the United States.” Bevin supported Mike Peroutka for president in 2004, a man the Human Rights Campaign called an “active white supremacist and secessionist sympathizer.” And in this election cycle, the white supremacist leader Earl Holt — the head of the Council of Conservative Citizens who inspired Charleston mass shooter Dylann Roof — gave Bevin a $500 contribution.
The question that arises is: what was a black woman raised by a black mama doing on this gubernatorial ticket? Well, conservatives will likely say Jenean Hampton and those of her ilk help to humanize a GOP that African-Americans perceive as hostile. In Kentucky and elsewhere, running against Obamacare and Obama — and by extension black people in general — was a winning strategy for the Republicans. The Republican base hates them some black people, but they love some black people who hate them some black people even more. This makes Hampton a useful tool in the Civil War white conservative Southerners have been fighting since 1861.
Jenean Hampton and Ben Carson appeal to those who want to bring out the worst in white folks, with an out-of-poverty, up-from-bootstraps narrative that seeks to cut down those who want to get up the ladder. Please believe, this new breed of black conservatives has all the makings of a hot mess.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.