Martha Collins takes Kentucky's helm

It was billed as the race between the former beauty queen and the star baseball pitcher. Democratic Lt. Gov. Martha Layne Collins scored her victory at the polls Tuesday as Kentucky governor-elect and the nation's only woman governor by what political observers see as a series of deft political moves that antagonized few voters.

A former schoolteacher, Mrs. Collins made education in Kentucky, which is one of the lowest-ranking states in education spending, her chief issue. But she spoke largely of tests and standards, carefully ducking any commitment to higher tax support.

She also skillfully avoided taking a stand on the right-to-work issue, winning organized labor's support, which had gone to an opponent in the primary. And she managed to evade GOP opponent Jim Bunning's insistence that the two candidates hold a series of public debates by conceding to only one on television.

Mr. Bunning, a conservative who has been minority leader of the Kentucky Senate and was a major-league baseball pitcher, campaigned hard on the debate issue, even as he tried to indicate to voters that he would be a tougher, more aggressive governor than a woman.

Mrs. Collins came up through the ranks of the Democratic Party, serving as clerk of the state's old court of appeals before being elected lieutenant governor. She ran a well-organized and well-financed campaign, spending roughly twice as much ($2 million) as Bunning on the general election and another $2.6 million on the primary.

Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. (D), Kentucky's flamboyant current governor who is ineligible under state law to run for a successive second term, deplored the evils of patronage while in office and paid little attention to party workers. Mrs. Collins, by contrast, suggests that a progressive kind of patronage is possible in which loyal party workers are rewarded for hard work. She has said she intends to lead the state's Democratic Party.

Mrs. Collins is considered moderately conservative. She has been a lukewarm supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment and an opponent, under most circumstances, of legalized abortion. Had she been a strong feminist, many political observers say, she might have lost more votes than she gained.

''She ran a technically skillful campaign, but it wasn't issue-oriented at all,'' says University of Kentucky political scientist Malcolm Jewell.

''It was a close primary (she won in a three-way race by fewer than 5,000 votes), but the Democrats united behind her afterward,'' he says. ''The Republicans had had difficulty finding anybody who would even run. This is not a guaranteed Democratic state, but in state politics, Republicans (elected to the governorship twice in the last 50 years) seem to have an uphill battle.''

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