History of Kentucky Governors

Kentucky Governors and Elections

A.B. “HAPPY” CHANDLER

1898-1991

1935-1939—First Term

1955-1959—Second Term

 

                (Mama), a teacher at the Margaret Hall School for Girls.  They had four children, Marcella, Mildred, Albert, Jr., and Dan.

            Chandler’s entry into politics began with his selection as chairman of the Woodford County Democratic Party and in 1929 he was elected to the Kentucky Senate.  He was part of the group which stripped Governor Flem Sampson of some of the governor’s statuary powers during the 1930 session.  In 1931, he was selected at the Kentucky Democratic State Convention as the Democratic nominee for Lt. Governor to run w“Happy” Chandler is probably the best nationally known of Kentucky’s governors of the 20th Century due to his service as Baseball Commissioner, U.S. Senator and his oratorical skills.  He was the first Kentucky governor to take advantage of communicating with the people of the Commonwealth with the radio.

 

            Albert Benjamin “Happy” Chandler was born in the Henderson County town of Corydon in 1898.  He was the oldest child of Joseph and Callie Chandler.  He had a younger brother Robert who died from a fall from a tree at age 13.  Chandler’s mother left the family before he was 5 years old and left his father to raise two boys.

 

            Chandler graduated from Corydon High School.  He was captain of the high school’s baseball and football teams.  He then enrolled at Transylvania University (Transy) in Lexington where he was captain of both the basketball and baseball teams and was quarterback of the football team (Transy no longer has a football team).  It was at Transy, Chandler received his nickname “Happy”   As Chandler attended college during World War I, and he was part of the U.S. Army’s Student Officers’ Training Corps.  However, World War I ended prior to being called to active service.  (Because of his participation he claimed to be a World War I Veteran)

 

            “Happy” Chandler received a B.A. from Transy in 1921 and entered Harvard Law School.  He was unable to afford Harvard after a year and transferred to the University of Kentucky where he completed law school in 1924.

 

            After admission to the bar, he moved to Woodford County where he practiced law from an office in Versailles and coached high school football.  In 1925, Chandler married Mildred Watkins

ith Ruby Laffoon for Governor.  Laffoon and Chandler easily won their respective contests during this “Depression Era” election. 

            Upon becoming Lt. Governor, Chandler set up an office in the Capitol.  This was unusual as most Kentucky Lt. Governors up to that time where only in Frankfort for special occasions and during legislative sessions to preside over the State Senate.

            Lt.Governor Chandler and Governor Ruby Laffoon’s relationship became strained when Laffoon over the vocal opposition of Chandler had the General Assembly pass a three per cent sales tax.  Due to Chandler’s opposition to Laffoon’s policies, Laffoon had his allies in the legislature strip the office of lt. governor of what power it had.  Governor Laffoon left the state to attend meetings in Washington D.C.  As a result, Chandler was acting governor in Laffoon’s absence.  Partially out of retaliation for Laffoon’s actions and because Chandler wanted to succeed the term limited governor, Chandler called a special session of the General Assembly in early 1935 which required candidates for governor to be chosen by party primary rather than convention. 

 

            There was four person primary contest in the Democratic Primary for Governor.  Laffoon’s choice Thomas Rhea won the initial primary race with Chandler coming in second.  Since Rhea did not receive a majority there was a primary which was won by Chandler.  Chandler then faced Republican King Swope in the General Election.  Chandler won the 1935 General Election over Swope by 35,000 votes to become one of the youngest governors in the nation at age 37.

 

            Chandler’s first act as governor was to repeal the sales tax passed during the Laffoon Administration.  He replaced it with excise taxes on alcohol including whiskey which became available with the repeal of prohibition.  The General Assembly under Chandler’s direction enacted Kentucky’s first income tax. 

 

            One of Chandler’s achievements was the “Governmental Reorganization Act” which reduced the size of the executive branch of state government.  He is also responsible for the establishment of the Kentucky Teacher’s Retirement System.

 

            Chandler was praised for his handling of the 1937 Ohio River Flood.

 

            In 1938, Governor Chandler decided to challenge Kentucky’s senior U.S. Senator Alben Barkley who was also the Democratic Majority Leader.  During the bitter primary campaign, President Franklin D. Roosevelt openly supported Barkley over Chandler.  FDR came to Kentucky to campaign on Barkley’s behalf.  During one such visit by President Roosevelt at a Barkley Rally at Covington’s old Latonia Race Track, Chandler showed up to greet FDR.  Barkley won the primary election over Chandler by a significant margin and the General Election.

 

            In 1939, Kentucky’s junior U.S. Senator Marvel Logan unexpectedly died.  As the governor has the power to fill a Senate vacancy, Chandler resigned and Lt. Governor Keen Johnson became Governor and appointed Chandler to the U.S. Senate.

 

            Chandler was elected to a full term in 1940.  He served on the Committee on Military Affairs during World War II.  He traveled on behalf of the Committee inspecting bases around the world including those in Alaska.  He held hearings throughout Alaska during the early months of the war which were influential in Congress authorizing the construction of the ALCAN Highway.

 

            In the fall of 1945, Chandler resigned from the U.S. Senate to accept the job of Commissioner of Major League Baseball.  This was a post he held until 1951.  During this period of he was instrumental in establishing a players’ pension fund and the integration of major league baseball with Jackie Robinson becoming the first African-American to become a major league player.

 

            Chandler returned to the practice of law and farming in Versailles.  In 1955, Chandler won the Democratic Primary over Bert Combs and the general election over Edwin Denny. 

 

            Chandler’s second term saw the issuance of a bond issue which helped fund highways throughout Kentucky.  One of the most important legacies of Chandler’s second term is the establishment of a medical school and medical center at the University of Kentucky.  The medical center is known as the “A.B. Chandler Medical Center”. 

 

            Chandler unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1963, 1967 and 1971.  His endorsement of Republican Louie Nunn in 1967 might have made the difference in Nunn’s win over Democrat Henry Ward. 

 

            In his later years, Chandler became a beloved figure at University of Kentucky athletic events.  Chandler became the oldest livinig person inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame with his election in 1982.

 

            Prior to his death on June 15, 1991, Chandler was able savor the victory of his grandson Ben’s (now Congressman for KY District 6)  nomination for Kentucky State Auditor during the May 1991 Democratic Primary.

 

 

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsQj46swDvI

Link to Chandler singing "My Old KY Home"