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Hal Heiner's Long Campaign Pushes Jobs and Battles Accusations of Dirty Politics

Hal Heiner
Hal Heiner

Hal Heiner has been on the campaign trail since March of last year—62 weeks crisscrossing Kentucky to try and become the next governor.

He bills himself as a “Frankfort outsider” who will change the status quo in the state Capitol.

“We have a culture problem in Frankfort: it’s one whether it’s the revenue cabinet, children and family services, pensions or the legislature," he said.

"It’s 'hide, don’t show.' Keep it closed. That needs to completely open up we need to let the light of day in. Because that’s the way corruption keeps from expanding."

But Heiner's main focus in his campaign to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination on Tuesday focuses on economic development.

An engineer and businessman, Heiner is the chairman of Capstone Realty, a Louisville company that develops commercial real estate. Heiner touts his role in the creating Commerce Crossings, an industrial park in Louisville that houses offices for 30 companies, including Yum! Brands and J.P. Morgan.

He said that his experience attracting businesses will translate to success in the governor’s office.

“The last 30 years of my life I’ve spent attracting businesses," Heiner said. "I know what it takes to grow good jobs in Kentucky. That’s why I’m running. Not to take more money from Kentuckians to try to shore up this part or that part of Kentucky, but to build real revenue, real jobs."

During his marathon campaign, Heiner led the field in several ways: he was the first to announce his candidacy, he was the first to air television ads and he spent the most money on his campaign.

Heiner's campaign has the most money—nearly $5 million—though $4.2 million of it was his own.

As a reward for all of his firsts, Heiner led the pack of Republican candidates for governor during much of the spring—a Bluegrass Poll in March showed him ahead by 8 percentage points.

But rounding the final turn of the race before the primary on Tuesday, Heiner’s lead has disappeared and he’s in a three-way neck-and-neck battle to get his nose across the finish line.

The Blogger

Late in April, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that members of Heiner’s campaign had been in contact with a blogger who alleged that fellow candidate James Comer abused his college girlfriend.

Heiner publicly apologized to Comer, but denied knowing that his campaign had been in touch with the blogger.

Soon after, The Courier-Journal published a letter from Comer’s college girlfriend in which she accused him of physically and emotionally abusing her while they dated.

Comer vehemently denied the accusations and accused Heiner and his campaign of pushing the story, which Heiner denied.

“We have had no involvement whatsoever in the fact that this young lady felt the need to come forward. We’ve had zero involvement. Never met her, never talked to her and to my knowledge, no one in my organization has as well,” Heiner said during a debate on KET on Monday.

Comer and fellow candidate Matt Bevin have also accused Heiner of coordinating with a super PAC that has aired negative ads against the candidates.

Heiner’s former campaign manager Joe Burgan is an adviser for that super PAC, which doesn’t have to disclose its donors.

Improving Jobs and Education

On the issues, Heiner supports making Kentucky a "right to work" state—meaning workers would be required to pay union dues as a condition of employment— in order to improve the state’s business climate. He said many businesses pass over Kentucky for neighboring states that have "right-to-work" laws on the books.

“We need to change the business climate in this state. We have the natural advantages to grow jobs in this state but Frankfort has held us back. It’s going to take new ideas,” Heiner said.

Heiner also supports increasing the availability of technical training, to make high school graduates more employable.

“My focus is going to be expanding a K-12 system to K-14 system because a 12th grade education isn’t adequate any longer.”

Heiner has been a staunch supporter of bringing charter schools into Kentucky, which is one of eight states that doesn’t allow them.


Despite characterizing himself as a Frankfort outsider, Heiner is not without political experience. He was a Louisville Metro councilman from 2003-2010 and lost a race to be Louisville mayor in 2010 by fewer than 7,000 votes.

Heiner held several leadership positions on the council.

On the council in 2007, Heiner opposed a proposed increase to the city’s occupational tax which would have funded a $200 million expansion of the city’s libraries—that proposal was defeated by Louisville voters.

And in 2004, Heiner voted against a city fairness ordinance, which sought to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The ordinance ultimately passed.

Heiner is a graduate of the University of Louisville and is married to his wife Sheila. They have three children.

This week, we’re profiling the Republican candidates for governor ahead of the May 19 primary election. Other profiles can be found here. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott.