Renee Shaw: They’re government watchdogs and guardrail guiders who reviewed the books of state, county, and public agencies. The state auditor of public accounts is one of the races on Kentucky’s statewide ballot in November. And we introduce you to the two contenders, now on Connections.
Renee Shaw: Thank you so much for joining me for Connections today, I'm Renee Shaw. Election Day in Kentucky is fast approaching and among the statewide contests voters will cast ballots for is the office of state auditor. Republican Allison Ball is the current state treasurer and GOP nominee and the Democratic nominee is Kimberly Reeder. Both women sat down with me recently to discuss their background, experience, and why they want the job. First up is Republican Allison Ball.
Republican Allison Ball
Renee Shaw: Treasurer Ball, it's good to see you.
Allison Ball: Thank you, it's great to be here.
Renee Shaw: Yes. So when we talked, we were just how many days from the election?
Allison Ball: Oh, I think we’re 43? We're getting really close.
Renee Shaw: Can you believe that it’s already upon us? (laughs)
Allison Ball: Yes, I can. (laughs)
Renee Shaw: Well and you’re no newbie to this, right? This will be your third time that you've run statewide.
Allison Ball: Ya, third time running for office at a statewide level, and even though I know the drill, like, it's a lot of work --
Renee Shaw: Yeah.
Allison Ball: -- and I'll be glad when it's done.
Renee Shaw: So tell us about a typical day on the campaign trail and then you're still trying do a full time job as treasurer.
Allison Ball: Sure. I do know that there is a typical day. That's one of the things that I have learned through this process is that there's a lot of variations and variety. So the challenge is always how do you, how do you campaign fully because it's basically a full-time job campaigning. And then you still have your day job, which is the treasurer's role. And, you know, I love doing that. So we have to balance all the time the official work that has to be done. Sometimes it's on the phone because I’m out on the road. But you've got also get to Paducah. I was in Murray last Saturday. You know, you've got to go all, all corners of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. And so it is that, that challenging balance of doing your official work that you put there to do and also getting your message out for people to know what you're running for. And I've got two kids. I’ve a five-year-old and a two-year-old, which is a full-time job on its own. So, you know, we live by the calendar, we’re very intentional. We do, we've been able to balance it so for, far, but, you know, it's tough.
Renee Shaw: Yeah, I can be crazy sometimes.
Allison Ball: It can be. It can be.
Renee Shaw: Some people would say that in this age of political divisiveness, like, why do you do this? Why do you want to do this and do it again? You’ve done it twice. Why do you want to do it this time as auditor?
Allison Ball: Sure. That is a great question, Renee. You know, as you and I know, because we talk about this before, I really am a person of faith and our relationship with Jesus is the most important thing for me to me. So I really am very prayerful about what I’m supposed to be spending my time doing. And I've really felt like that that this is a calling. This is what I'm supposed to do with this season of my life. I have a background that lends itself to that, I have an interest that lends itself to that. You're right, it is a divisive time. It is a time of real polarization, and I try to do things the right way and be a statesman and be an example of that. So I think you need to be called into this because it is tough. It is hard. You need to feel like there's a higher purpose in doing it. Uh, yeah, it's, it's a difficult season, but all the more reason why we need people who, I think, see this is public service.
Renee Shaw: Yeah. The strength of the ticket. You all are all kind of similar in age, right? Who are current officeholders and even, you know, the ticket that's running, right? So talk about the camaraderie, you know, is it as real is it appears to be when we see photo opportunities and that kind of thing.
Allison Ball: That's a good question. Yes, there is a lot of camaraderie. I think we're a group that likes each other. You know, it doesn't hurt that we all have very similar beliefs. So, you know, we feel like we’re furthering a cause we all believe in. I think it also, it helps that a lot of us are the same age. Our oldest one is Mark Metcalf, who’s running for treasurer. And so he brings the, the aged wisdom –
Renee Shaw: The sage advice, right?
Allison Ball: And you need, you need that balance, too. Like I'm, I'm not one to say you've got to be, you know, in your 20s to make it a difference. There’s, there’s great value in having some experience behind you, too. But it is fun having a youthful, energetic ticket.
A number of us have young kids and we can share those experiences and the vision.
So, yeah, there's a lot of camaraderie, which helps a lot of the campaign trail because it's more fun.
Renee Shaw: Yeah. Are you all touring together? It’s like the band.
Allison Ball: Sure, it’s a good question. We’ll probably do more of that as we get towards the end. So a lot of it for me is focusing on my race. Not everybody understands the auditor’s race, so I've got to do a lot of education out there, letting people know the work that I've done, the work that I want to do, what the role is about. So, so, I really do spend a lot of time focusing on, on me and my race. I'm the one who's tasked with making sure people understand it. At the same time there is overlap. You know, we will go to the same parades, especially if it’s a GOP event, we’re often the same thing. I think when we get towards the end, we’ll be a lot of the same events. But yeah, we get we get along well.
Renee Shaw: Right. Well and we should say, you know, that you made history by being the first mom while in office. You gave birth twice while in office. You also garnered the most votes in both of those races --
Allison Ball: Yeah, it’s true,
Renee Shaw: -- both times you ran. So many people would say why did you choose auditor and not governor?
Allison Ball: Yeah, it's a great question and I really did consider governor. It's something that I do have an interest in. There are things that I would like to see happening in Kentucky, certain initiatives I care about and I, my husband and I, we talked about it. We prayed about it. And we've got two small kids who just turned five, just turned two, and trying to figure out, you know, where does God want me right now? Where am I most useful and just through prayer, discussion, figuring out, I felt like auditor was the right next step. It’s similar in a lot of ways to treasurer. It's not unusual to have people go from one office to the other because it uses the same kind of skill set. And I really believe in fiscal responsibility, you know? I’m someone who believes in financial literacy and being good with money. So it's the kind of job that I really do enjoy. So it's a natural fit.
Renee Shaw: Yeah, and they're both watchdog --
Allison Ball: They are.
Renee Shaw: -- positions, right? Because, you know, current Auditor Harmon would say, you know, I'm a watchdog. No, Treasurer Ball says she's a watchdog. What's the difference between the two in terms of their watchdog-ism.
Allison Ball: Sure. So, yes, you're right. They both could (be) described as being a watchdog. And the way to understand it is one is a watchdog of the front. The treasurer guards the bank account, makes sure that whatever is paid in Kentucky is constitutional, is legal, is correct. So that front-end guard on the dollars. The auditor does exactly what it sounds like. The auditor is the watchdog on the back end. So what's money's been spent, the auditor makes sure that money is used correctly. That processes are correct. Things are being done the right way. And if not, then the auditor’s responsible for making sure that there's accountability, there's transparency, people are aware of it.
I was a prosecutor for four years so I think that's a really good thing to remember. Not only have I been treasurer, I've been a watchdog. I'm ready to go in that role. But I was a prosecutor and the auditor’s role has more of a prosecutorial-type responsibility to it. So I know how to investigate, make sure people are held accountable. You know, I get excited about being fiscally responsible, protecting against waste and fraud and abuse. So all those things go hand in hand to serve in that role as that watchdog on the back end.
Renee Shaw: So sometimes in the races down-ballot, there are issues and themes that come up that seem a little farfetched for that office that you’re concerned with when it comes to where you stand on abortion or transgender issues. How, how do you feel, how important is it, do you think, for you to communicate to voters where you stand on some of those really vital values issues?
Allison Ball: That's a good question. I do think it's important to remember what the job is about it because it can get derailed in people's minds that my job is about fiscal responsibility, accountability when it comes to government spending. And so I was try to remind people that's the job. You know, that's what you want to make sure people are qualified to do. Now, it is important to people to know where you stand on certain hot issues. You know, I am pro-life and I've always been pro-life. It’s something that, that has guided me in every office I’ve run for and just my political involvement in general. So it's important for a lot of people to know where you stand on that issue and I'm happy to tell people. But I think it is also important for people to remember this is the job. The job is about accountability and fiscal responsibility. And I, I actually think that that's one of the reasons why people have voted for me on both sides of the, on the aisle because they recognize the jobs that I’ve had. The previous one, the one I’m in right now, the one I'm applying for, they’re about fiscal responsibility. So there are people that disagree with me on some issues like, like life. There are people that disagree with me. But, but they will say she's good on fiscal responsibility. We want somebody who's guarding the money and, and I've always gotten support from, from people I think because of that reason. Yes.
Renee Shaw: Yeah. So when you're telling people what the state auditor does –
Allison Ball: Sure.
Renee Shaw: -- do they, does that that does the light bulb go off? Do they finally get it?
Allison Ball: I think they do.
Renee Shaw: -- Do they see the value of it.
Allison Ball: Yeah, I think they do. I think describing it as a watchdog, that helps people understand it's protecting taxpayer dollars, making sure their used the right way. And it's not a hard concept. So if you take a little bit of time to explain it to people, then most the time, they’re like, oh, yes, we need somebody who's good with money, who believes in fiscal responsibility, who believes in accountability in a role like that to make sure that we're doing things the right way. So, yeah, people do seem to have the light bulb go off.
Renee Shaw: Yeah. Yeah. They don’t confuse you with the IRS or anything like that --
Allison Ball: They can.
Renee Shaw: -- Do they think, disparagingly, because they might make that connection.
Allison Ball: Sure. They can. That happens more with the treasurer's office where I will get asked, are you the one in charge of our taxes, and so I’ve had to do some work to explain that. And it does happen a little bit of the auditor’s office, too, because people know, understand money and they think that all the money goes through those offices –
Renee Shaw: That's right.
Allison Ball: -- but they are discrete roles.
Renee Shaw: Yeah. What are you most proud of in your eight years? Well, it’s not quite eight but close enough.
Allison Ball: Well apart from Levi and Marigold –
Renee Shaw: Yes (laughs)
Allison Ball: -- (laughs) that takes the cake. I'm very proud of my work on financial literacy. That’s something that did not exist in the treasurer's office before I got there. And it's something that I really grew to care about my whole life, but especially practicing bankruptcy law. I got to see that people just aren't trained in this and we can do a better job making sure people have the tools they need to make good financial decisions. So I pushed to make a high school requirement that before you’re through with school, you get some training on this. And it is now the law of the land. The current senior class are the first class that’s going to have this as part of their graduation requirement. And I really believe that's going to going to have a generational impact, you know, could do such wonderful things for people if they get on the right footing to begin with, when they're launched as adults. They’re making good decisions, they have the tools that they need. So I'm very proud of that. There's a lot of things that I'm proud of in the office. I really feel like I have been that watchdog. I’ve returned more unclaimed property than anyone else. I launched a saving and investment program for people with disabilities. There's a lot that I'm proud of, but I'm particularly proud of the financial literacy aspect. And I'm excited that that's going to live in the office from, from now on, because that's part of the office.
Renee Shaw: So when you think about all the things that you've accomplished with treasure in these other areas, whether it's financial literacy for young people, but also for women.
Allison Ball: Yes.
Renee Shaw: You've held women's conferences to help empower them and take charge of their money. The auditor doesn't seem to have that, the perception of that capacity.
Allison Ball: Sure. Well, it doesn't. It really does live with the treasurer's office a lot more and that's because the work that I've done. So I got a bill passed that it is called the Kentucky Financial Empowerment Commission bill, and, and that launched that out of the treasurer's office. So, so, the ability to be able to provide resources for financial literacy, that lives in the treasury. And, so, it's important people know that when you're voting for treasure, know that's part of the job. But I do think the women's conference I might be able to keep. And, and I’ve just kind of been toying with this in my own mind because I, I do believe in financial literacy. And then, you know, if I get the job as auditor, I'll be a woman in that role. And it's a financial literacy role. So I've kind of toyed with the idea, well maybe, maybe I can kind of keep that one going because I really do believe in empowering women, and, uh, the potential women all across the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and, you know, being financially literate, being good with your money, passing that on to the next generation, those are, those are things that all women need to be well versed in.
Renee Shaw: And there was wisdom in making that statutory, the financial literacy, right, so it didn’t just leave with you when you left the office.
Allison Ball: Yes. Now the women's conference is not statutory. That was, that was just a bonus, but you’re right. The Financial Empowerment Commission, that’s statutory. The treasurer will always chair it, ah, and it is attached to the treasury. So the office is inside the, the treasury and the work is done in connection with the treasury. And I do think there’s wisdom in that because it's important enough that we need to have it ongoing.
Renee Shaw: Yeah. So do you give advice to the, to the Republican candidate who's running for state treasurer?
Allison Ball: If he asked me something, I'd be happy to give him advice. I really do believe that financial literacy is important and that's one of things that I would say. Everyone knows the watchdog role and that's key. You know, you don't lose sight of that, but financial literacy has the ability to make a massive impact on people's lives. So I would say don't lose sight of that.
Renee Shaw: Right? So after you serve a year, this is going to be my last question, I think –
Allison Ball: Ok.
Renee Shaw: -- So you get this term. Let’s say you win November 7th --
Allison Ball: Yes.
Renee Shaw: -- You think you’ll run two terms or if there's a vacancy perhaps in Congress or in the level of D.C., that that’s something you aspire to?
Allison Ball: Sure. I think you always look at every opportunity as things come. So, you know, we'll see what God opens up, but I'm excited about serving as auditor. I'm excited about serving and doing great work in that role. And that's my focus right now. You know, who knows what comes next in the future? I don't know. As I've told you, I am a person who takes prayer very seriously and, you know, these are family decisions. We’ll see what, you know, as time goes by, what becomes available and, and what does it seem like I should pursue. But right now, I'm very excited at the auditor’s office
Renee Shaw: Wow. Wow. Thank you and thank you for your service as treasurer. I may not get a chance to tell you that again. But, uh, thank you so much and thank you for being here today.
Allison Ball: Glad to. Thank you, Renee.
Renee Shaw: Yeah.
Renee Shaw: Stay with us as we next hear from the Democratic nominee for state auditor, Kimberly Reeder.
Democrat Kimberly Reeder
Renee Shaw: Miss Reeder, it's good to have you here. Thank you so much.
Kimberley Reeder: Thank you so much for having me.
Renee Shaw: Well, you have a remarkable life story and this is an opportunity for viewers to get to know you, not just the candidate they may see, but you as an individual. So tell us about your upbringing and how that informs the person you are today.
Kimberley Reeder: So I was born and raised in Rowan County. I didn't come from a lot. My, my dad worked in a sawmill and poured concrete. My mom canned vegetables from our garden. And she went back to school to get her undergraduate degree when she was almost 40. And although I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, my mother graduated 6 months later with a bachelor's degree. So she really believed in the power of education to transform lives. I remember in the 80's when she just had a high school degree herself, her going to the Prichard Committee meetings that met all over the state because education was so important to her.
Renee Shaw: And that was instilled in you --
Kimberley Reeder: Yes.
Renee Shaw: -- and you went on to attend and graduate from some of the nation's best, world's best higher education institutions. Talk to us about that.
Kimberley Reeder: Well, you know, it, I worked very to, to build the, the resumes to be able to attend those schools. I also just got lucky. You know, it's, it's hard to, there are a lot of Kentuckians who, who worked very hard and, and don't get a break always. And so it's, it was difficult. It was, you know, when I went to a New Haven, Connecticut, I was flew on a plane for the first time. I was 17 and we joke that it's a miracle that I'm still not stepped in La Guardia Airport. (laughs)
Renee Shaw: (laughs) Well La Guardia is, is a big one to have to navigate, particularly at 17, right? Yeah.
Kimberley Reeder: Yes, I have 3 cardboard boxes with me and I was really on my own. And I, I worked a lot all through college and it was, you know, it took a lot of commitment and drive and –
Renee Shaw: Yeah. So we should say because you don't mention it explicitly during just what you said, you earned from Yale University, you graduated with a degree of political science, then you went on and you got a master of public policy from Duke and then a law degree from the University of North Carolina Law School. So, no slacker here, right? How did your mother respond to all of that, that you just kept scaffolding your educational experience as you did.
Kimberley Reeder: You’re going to make me get teary, Renee. She was incredibly proud. She flew on an airplane for the first time to come to my graduation at Yale. She, uh, that was the first time we'd had enough money for anyone to come visit. And so it was, you know, she was, she was very proud.
Renee Shaw: Yeah, Well, I don't want to --
Kimberley Reeder: No, no, no, no, no (laughs) –
Renee Shaw: -- to entice the water works –
Kimberley Reeder: -- no --
Renee Shaw: -- but the story of your mother --
Kimberley Reeder: -- yes --
Renee Shaw: -- because you had, you know, you were a very successful tax attorney and you’d been elsewhere, but you came back home when she fell ill and became her caregiver.
Kimberley Reeder: It’s, well, and so many women find themselves in, in those roles going from caregivers of children to caregivers of parents as their parents age. My mother and I had a very close relationship and she had, she had a hard life, right. I mentioned to you off the air that these are my, my grandmother's pearls. My grandmother couldn't read or, or drive. And my mother was one of 11 kids and she was the first one to graduate from high school. And she just really, she worked hard. She, she had hope when I think she couldn't even fully imagine what she was hoping for, what she was, she believed in something she couldn't see. And, you know, for a long time, she was diagnosed in 2014 with frontotemporal degeneration, which is the same disease that Bruce Willis suffers from. So it's a, it’s a personality altering disease. She was very young and it, she just, she deserved my best.
Renee Shaw: And you gave it to her. And you still stayed in Kentucky after that.
Kimberley Reeder: Yes, ah, my daughter, Ansley, and I moved here. Ansley was 12-years-old. She’d been born in California and that was a hard decision as well because I had to make choices about what was best for, for my mother, but also my daughter. And after my mother died in 2015, Ansley and I did have to choose what to do and we did stay in Morehead and I believed that the values that, that Ansley would learn in, you know, that small town, those would be beneficial for her. I wanted her to learn about her roots in eastern Kentucky. And moreover, I looked around the community and could see that I could contribute. That there were things that I could do. And that's why I started teaching at the high school. I coached the speech and debate team. I taught in the Governor Scholars program because I knew I had those skills to give.
Renee Shaw: Yeah. Why do you want to be state auditor and why now?
Kimberley Reeder: Well, it, it's really just a continuation of the last answer I, I gave. I, I can help. I have really valuable skills in the marketplace that can be used for this job. They're particularly applicable in this job. And I would like to be able to use those skills to the service of Kentuckians, not just myself.
Renee Shaw: Sure. Is this your first foray into elected political office?
Kimberley Reeder: It is. (laughs)
Renee Shaw: So you want to take full feet, both feet and plunge in. No starting off at a local level for you. Go statewide the first time out of the gate.
Kimberley Reeder: (laughs) Well, I guess that's what I, that's to some degree what I've done my whole life, I think –
Renee Shaw: Put both feet in, or you did.
Kimberley Reeder. Right. When we, I would, when I coached the speech team actually during the, during the pandemic, we’d just backed gone back into, into school a couple days a week and I asked the students if we wanted to compete in the state tournament that year. And, you know, they, they decided, yes, we would. And I said, well, if we're going to compete, we might as well try to win –
Renee Shaw: That’s right
Kimberley Reeder: -- and we did win. (laughs)
Renee Shaw: Oh, wow, that’s wonderful. So the work ethic you inherited, that’s in your DNA, right? What do you think your mother would say about what you're doing now?
Kimberley Reeder: What she would love is, which she would, of course, be, be proud of the, the recognition, of course. But I think what she would be most happy about is I, I gave a speech a few nights ago and both of my, my brother's youngest daughters were there and my daughter was there. And, and to be able to set that example for what, in our family, what we can do. And, and it's what all Kentuckians can do. But the distance that our family traveled, right, from, from my, my grandmother to, to being able to have the privilege of seeking to, to serve Kentuckians, that goes to the to some our spirit, to the human spirit and what is possible if we if we just believe.
Renee Shaw: Right, yeah, and work hard --
Kimberley Reeder: And work, and, and work hard.
Renee Shaw: -- and work hard. And that, there used to be a Kentucky slogan, Unbridled Spirit --
Kimberley Reeder: Yes.
Renee Shaw: -- right? And, and Kentuckians have that from east and west and all points and all points in between.
Kimberley Reeder: Yes, yes.
Renee Shaw: What do you hope to accomplish? I mean, you're a tax attorney, so numbers make a whole lot more sense to you than they do me. I will say that, at least putting them together. But what do you hope you can accomplish in that office?
Kimberley Reeder: At a very high level, I want to be a very energetic auditor. I want to listen to the, what the people want that office to shine its light on because that's what the office does. It shows the people we're the people's money is, is being spent. And, and so to be able to, to show, show them so that it, again this is an idealistic idea, but being able to help them believe in the integrity of the system because if you can see how money is spent, it makes, it gives you a better opportunity to believe and understand.
Renee Shaw: Yeah, yeah. You're up against a woman who in her previous two races for state treasurer earned the most votes of any of the constitutional officers, and she's highly regarded as someone who gets the job done. How does that strike you? How do you feel about your chances November 7th?
Kimberley Reeder: I feel great about our chances. We have been now in 81 or 82 counties. We're going to get to 120 before November 7th. And we're meeting Kentuckians where they are and what I'm talking to them about is, is my background. The strength of my skills for this particular office, not, not any office. This office. And my commitment to service and wanting to help. Uh, in one way I think that comes out now is I do have a strong interest in public education. Public education was the avenue that really gave me an opportunity to thrive. And I think there's work that the auditor’s office could do in so far as looking at education funding and whether it, the way it's allocated to local school districts. That, that's an area of interest for me.
Renee Shaw: Well we know there’ve been recent reports that show the funding inequities between the richer districts and the less affluent districts, so you see state auditor's office having a role in equalizing and leveling those disparities.
Kimberley Reeder: Well, in, in shining a light on them, certainly. In the in being able to make sure the folks who are in the bottom quintile of counties understand that their children are in school systems that are, the disparity is greater than it was in 1989. To shine that light there and, and help them understand that.
Renee Shaw: I have to ask you how your our lived experience of growing up the way you did in Rowan County, how that comes to bear and how you view your role if you were elected state auditor?
Kimberley Reeder: Well, I think it's even come into play in our campaign because what you learn when you don't have a lot is you learn to be resourceful. And so, we've been very resourceful with our campaign funds. We have a 1993 RV that the campaign purchased. That, that's what we used to travel around. When we were in western Kentucky, we stayed at our state park campgrounds. So, we learned to be resourceful. I think also, you know, I hold in my heart as far serving as a teacher, serving as auditor, understanding what it's like to be a Kim Reeder or really a Faye Reeder, my mother, that doesn't have power and needs someone bear or carry that responsibility for remembering the people who have no power and, and want to, want to do better, want to have more stability. And the auditor can't fix all of those problems, but what the auditor can do is work really hard to make sure that that we’re being a good steward of tax dollars and doing everything we can with the money we have.
Renee Shaw: Yeah. Well, Miss Reeder, Kim Reeder, it's been a pleasure to speak with you.
Kimberley Reeder: Thank you.
Renee Shaw: We thank you for your time. Good luck in the days ahead. And we appreciate you.
Kimberley Reeder: Thank you very much.
Renee Shaw: Thanks so much for joining me today. More candidate conversations are to come, and tune in each Monday night this month to see the candidates discuss the issues on KET’s Kentucky Tonight at 8 Eastern, 7 Central. Connect with me all the ways you see on your screen, and until I see you again, take really good care.