During the period from 1931 to 1967 -- thirty-six years -- Kentuckians elected only one Republican as governor of the Commonwealth. Yet that man, a former justice of the state's highest court, seldom appears as other than a footnote in the standard histories. That is unfortunate, for Simeon Willis of Ashland made a fine record as governor, assuming the office during World War II and leaving it strengthened in a postwar world.
In this new volume in the Public Papers of the Governors of Kentucky series, editor James C. Klotter has assembled 173 documents and public statements, so that the Willis administration may be examined in depth for the first time.
Such an examination is long overdue, for Willis sought to accomplish much under difficult circumstances. Hindered by the opposition party's control of the legislature and operating under wartime restrictions, the Willis administration nevertheless made path-breaking moves in education, health care, transportation, and civil rights.
Many of the same difficulties Kentucky has faced in more recent years also existed during Willis's term. How he dealt with those puzzles can be instructive for today's citizens and leaders. Willis faced budget problems, sought to increase aid to education, confronted a conflict over the presidency of what is now Morehead State University, and attempted to increase tourism in the state. His calls for change would be echoed by later governors.