Often characterized as one of the most colorful political figures in Kentucky, perennial statewide candidate Gatewood Galbraith passed away this week, reportedly from complications from chronic asthma and emphysema. He was 64. A man whose first name alone conjured instant recognition, Galbraith frequented the studios of KET on the several occasions he ran for statewide office in bids for governor, agriculture commissioner, Congress, and attorney general. Galbraith made another unsuccessful run for governor last year.
Governor Steve Beshear released a statement on Wednesday that reads in part: “He was a gutsy, articulate, and passionate advocate who never shied away from a challenge or potential controversy. His runs for office prove he was willing to do more than just argue about the best direction for the state–he was willing to serve, and was keenly interested in discussing issues directly with our citizens. He will be missed.”
On the House floor Wednesday, House Speaker Greg Stumbo reminisced of time spent with the Lexington attorney, whether casually or in buttoned-down debates where Galbraith deftly managed to quip memorable one-liners and limericks. Stumbo said they would affectionately refer to each other as characters from the classic TV shows “The Munsters” and “The Addams Family” in some of the debates: “I was Eddie and Gatewood was Lurch.” Stumbo continued, “He was a Republican. He was a Democrat. He was an Independent, so he shared a lot of political views throughout his life. And, he was courageous enough to state those views regardless whether he was out of the mainstream or out of the realm of conventional thinking.”
On the House floor, Stumbo recalled a conversation with Galbraith during the gubernatorial election campaign, when Gatewood asked Stumbo about the timing of his political curtain call. Stumbo replied, “When you start making some sense to me, it’s time for me to get out of this business.” He then added, “You know Gatewood, I’m getting close, because some of the things that you’re saying in this campaign are really starting to make sense to me.”
The image of a fist-bump moment between Gatewood and Senate President David Williams has gone viral this week. It was taken on the “Kentucky Tonight” set during the last gubernatorial debate in October. Williams said the iconic photo was one of Galbraith’s favorites. In a statement, Williams said Galbraith’s “wit, humor, and intellect made him one of the most intriguing of Kentucky originals.”
Mr. Galbraith’s signature charm was matched only by his pluck on controversial issues like legalizing marijuana and hemp production and opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining. Memories of Galbraith as an activist for social change, author, philosopher, and lover of the earth flood the virtual billboards in cyberspace. The Kentucky political landscape will feel his absence, and never another shall take his place.