by Cherylyn Harley LeBon
Urban News Service
Kentucky is poised to inaugurate its first African-American woman to statewide office, Jenean Hampton — and she is a Republican.
Her dramatic life story has taken her from Air Force blue to the Bluegrass State’s second highest position. She will be sworn in as Kentucky’s new lieutenant governor on Dec. 8. Chosen as governor-elect Matt Bevin’s running mate, the pair won, 53 percent to 44 percent, beating Democrat Jack Conway and his running mate, Sannie Overly.
A political novice and Tea Party activist, Hampton had unsuccessfully run for a seat in the Kentucky House of Representatives in 2014. That bid, however, taught her a lot about the importance of applying a personal touch to running a campaign.
“I learned to write radio ads, create mailers, conduct precinct analysis and visited over 10,000 homes,” she tells Urban News Service. She even left handwritten notes for voters who were away when she knocked on their doors. “Sorry I missed you,” they read.
Hampton’s attention to detail and her ability to manage everything from start to finish are skills that she learned early in life and maintained throughout her career.
Born in Detroit, Mich., 57 years ago, Hampton’s parents divorced when she was 7. Her mother, Marie Hampton, supported four girls. Hampton watched her mother, who never graduated from high school, struggle to make ends meet. Marie wanted a better life for her girls. “My mother made good choices,” Hampton says.
One of those choices, Hampton recalls, happened during the 1967 Detroit riots. With violence erupting all around them, her mother made sure her daughters stayed indoors. Amid the chaos, her mother’s friend brought stolen groceries to their home. Although they needed the food, Marie refused the offer. The store owners were honest people who gave her store credit when she was broke. That experience taught Hampton an indelible lesson. “We learned to stretch a dollar and to live on less than what you make, and I still live by that rule today,” Hampton says.
After graduating high school, Hampton paid for college by joining General Motors as a computer operator. At GM, she became interested in all aspects of manufacturing.