Fresh Off the Grill

Kentucky Fried Politics Top 20 Staffers

It’s Derby Week, but back in Frankfort staffers are off preparing for a horse race of one version or another.

Staffers are the grooms of the political class, often traveling with and maintaining their candidates, bosses, or in support of them via their roles within their organizations. 

If an event goes well and an elected official or political appointee gets good press or is able to better position themselves for an upcoming election it’s a staff that made it happen. Here’s a list of the staffers who make it happen most often.  

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  1. Sean Southard – Director of Public Affairs – Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Southard has been with Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles since 2017, in that time he’s developed his own craft and grown with Quarles. The UofL McConnell Center graduate is credited by multiple people with elevating Quarles’ profile in Frankfort. Quarles is considered a front-runner in gubernatorial discussions. Southard cut his teeth in communications at RunSwitch PR. 
  2. Dalton Workman – Deputy Policy Director – Kentucky Senate Republican Majority. He keeps the trains running on time in the upper chamber. Workman plots out nearly everything from the flow of bills through the committee on committees, and the rules committee to the orders of the day. Workman is an oral cancer survivor and was able to bounce back faster than many expected in the Senate. 
  3. Amy Cubbage – General Counsel office of Gov. Andy Beshear. Cubbage is an up and comer in the Beshear circle, replacing Latasha Buckner as Beshear’s general counsel. Cubbage came from the Kentucky Labor Cabinet where she served as the deputy secretary from September until October 2020. She previously handled unemployment insurance problems with the cabinet as general counsel. She is the vice president of the Kentucky Bar Association. 
  4. Eric Lycan – General Counsel Kentucky House Republican Leadership. Lycan helps run the floor of the state House of Representatives, he works directly with House leadership members. He is the former general counsel of the Republican Party of Kentucky. 
  5. Jennifer Scutchfield – Assistant Secretary of State. Scutchfield is Secretary of State Michael Adams’ top deputy, she previously served as the co-director of the State Board of Election. Her encyclopedic knowledge of election minutiae reinforces Adams’s focus of the SOS Office toward elections, his strong suit. Having served at the State Board of Elections under previous Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes means Scutchfield knows where the bodies are buried, and her skill at bureaucratic navigation and infighting helps protect Adams from rivalry both from the Governor’s Office and from elected Republicans. 
  6. Christy Trout Van Tatenhove – Special Counsel to the House Speaker. She is the former commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Van Tatenhove was the first female commissioner of the ABC, and she oversaw an all-female board. She now serves as Special Counsel to House Speaker David Osborne. She is married to U.S. District Judge Greg Van Tatenhove. 
  7. Jake Cox – Director of Research and Digital Strategy, Republican Party of Kentucky. Cox has been with RPK for nearly 5 years doing deep dives in an effort to expose weaknesses in political opponents. Cox put the research together behind all of the Constitutional officers in 2019. Cox was a tracker for America Rising during the 2014 U.S. Senate race, he and others, followed Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes nearly everywhere she went. 
  8. Laurie Dudgeon – Director Administrative Office of the Court. Since being named director in 2009, Dudgeon has tackled many challenges within the AOC, including implementing new reforms like juvenile justice reform. She oversees more than 3,000 court employees and serves more than 400 judges. 
  9. John Hughes – Legislative Liaison, Kentucky Attorney General. Hughes handles coordination between the Attorney General’s Office and the General Assembly. He worked closely with Attorney General Daniel Cameron during the primary campaign. He previously served as a special assistant to the House Speaker from 2017 to 2019. 
  10. J. Michael Brown – Secretary of Executive Cabinet. Brown leads cabinet secretaries on behalf of Gov. Andy Beshear. He has been a mainstay in the younger-Beshear’s orbit and previously worked for his father, Gov. Steve Beshear as the Secretary of the Justice Cabinet. 
  11. Barry Dunn – Chief of Staff, Office of Attorney General. The former general counsel of the Public Protection Cabinet is calling the shots at the state’s top law enforcement and prosecutorial post. Nearly all decisions at the state Attorney General’s Office run through the Adair County native. Dunn also made the top 20 power brokers list. 
  12. Miranda Combs- Communications Director for Secretary of State Michael Adams. Miranda made the move from two decades in broadcasting to state government just over a year ago. She’s made a mark as one of the most reliable and creative communications directors in the field. Last year’s project of using beer cans to recruit poll workers made national headlines. She also ran a communications team through the tumultuous planning of the 2020 election during a pandemic. 
  13. Dr. Steven Stack – Commissioner Dept. of Public Health. Stack has also been vital to Gov. Andy Beshear during the COVID pandemic. Stack was appointed commissioner of the department of public health in February 2020. 
  14. Sarah Jackson – Kentucky Department of Transportation. Jackson is a longtime state worker who now serves the Department of Transportation as the REAL ID project manager. Jackson most recently served as the executive director for the registry of election finance. 
  15. Jim Bondurant & Jennifer Rowe – Kentucky state Senate budget staffers. The two are key in advising the upper chamber on the state budget, road plan, and all other matters of expenditures and forecasting. 
  16. Jamie Emmons –  chief of staff Jim Gray, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. He has a long history with cabinet Secretary Gray. Emmons ran Gray’s campaigns for mayor of Lexington and followed him into office as his chief of staff where he spent 8 years. Now, Emmons continues to be a mainstay for Gray in the Department of Transportation. While Gray may be the ideas man, it’s Emmons who pushes the ideas forward and executes them on his behalf. Emmons also made the top 20 power brokers list. 
  17. Jay Hartz, LRC Director. It might be odd to have the director of the LRC on the list of staff, but Hartz came directly from Senate President Robert Stivers camp as his chief of staff to the post as LRC director. Hartz jumped into the role after lawmakers opted not to renew the contract of former LRC director David Byerman.  
  18. Caroline Cash, Chief of Staff Congressman James Comer. Much of Congressman Comer’s early success in Congress is attributed to this energetic staffer, who has been by Comer’s side since 2015. 
  19. Travis Burton, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce – VP Political Affairs. Burton has caught the attention of other political staffers with his work at the Kentucky Chamber. Burton has been with the chamber for nearly 6 years coming from a stint with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture in their communications department. 
  20. Corey Elder – Field Representative Congressman James Comer. The Fancy Farm native previously served in the state House in Frankfort where he was the committee person for the House Agriculture Committee under chairman Richard Heath. Elder works out of the Comer’s Madisonville field office.