This story appeared in the July 22 issue of the Adair County Community Voice. To keep up with the latest news and sports in Adair County, get your subscription by calling 270-384-9454.
Rep. John “Bam” Carney, Kentucky State Representative for Adair and Taylor counties and former House Majority Leader, died Saturday in Lexington after a long illness. The 51-year-old fought pancreatitis and related medical issues for almost 18 months.
Carney, who was a teacher in Taylor County, had friends and family across the county with roots in Knifley, but his political career earned him respect across Kentucky and the nation as he served his communities and worked his way into House leadership.
“If you look at education policy, you look at someone who was a statesman, who worked well with all parties, who worked well with lobbyists, staff members, Bam Carney was one of the best,” said Sen. Max Wise. “He will truly be missed. His presence has already been missed by not having him in Frankfort.
“He was a calmness, sometimes in the midst of a storm. Bam had the ability to bring people together and I think that’s how we look at things in rural Kentucky. While we were always hoping and praying for him to return to Frankfort, right now I know he is rejoicing. He is no longer in pain.”
Carney, a Christian, was first elected in 2009. He served on the education committee and worked side-by-side with Wise on several legislative issues.
“From the blue jeans to the Brooks Brothers executive suits, Bam could talk with everybody. It did not matter. He never judged people and you always walked away from having a conversation with Bam feeling good about yourself,” Wise said. “In our line of work, it is so easy to get crossways on policy issues. Even when that would happen with Bam, I think our Democrat colleagues would say there was still a level of appreciation and respect.”
Carney’s passing brought words of condolence from elected officials and leaders everywhere.
“Bam was not only a great representative, but also a close friend,” said Adair County Judge Executive Gale Cowan. “I called him for advice many times. He was a true asset to have in Frankfort, but also a true friend who was always willing to help.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Rep. Bam Carney,” said Columbia Mayor Pam Hoots. “He cared for his community, his district and serving Taylor and Adair counties. He was a true friend and public servant for Columbia and Adair County.”
Carney Honored on U.S. House Floor
While words of condolences came from near and far, a close, personal friend recognized him on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“This past weekend, Kentucky lost one of its best – my dear friend and the former majority leader of the Kentucky House of Representatives, Bam Carney,” Congressman James Comer told his peers Monday.
“He rose as high as majority leader and remained there and would have remained there as long as he wanted to be majority leader, until he fell ill. And those of us who have kept up with Bam over the last year and a half know that Bam fought a battle that few could have fought.”
Comer said the history books will report on Carney’s leadership and his role as “a great educator and a leader for education in the commonwealth,” but then his comments turned personal about his friend. Comer served in the Kentucky House of Representatives when Carney was first elected.
“He wasn’t like everyone else in Frankfort. Bam was genuine. What you saw was what you got. Bam and I became very close friends. In fact, I consider Bam Carney one of my best friends.”
Comer said Carney didn’t hide from controversial or difficult issues, and he would do what he thought was right for the people he represented.
“Bam Carney is the kind of person we all need in legislative bodies. Someone you can count on, someone that is honest, and someone that is in the legislative body for the right reason,” Comer said.
He talked about Carney’s interest in sports, playing golf, and his faith.
“In fact, one of the last things he said to me was he was ready to go to heaven, and I know that’s where he is right now,” Comer said. “I hope that those of us who knew Bam can learn from the greatness of Bam Carney.”
Others who voiced their condolences include U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Bam Carney was a tireless public servant whose devotion to his fellow Kentuckians knew no bounds,” said McConnell, who is Kentucky’s senior senator. “He uplifted the lives of his constituents through more than a decade of hard work and dedication, deeply committed to central Kentucky and its people. It is a testament to his strong character that he was chosen to lead Kentucky Republicans as the House Majority Leader, a role which he passionately embraced.”
Wise said one of the things Carney was known for was being straightforward and hardworking, dedicated to fighting for issues he believed in on his own or in unison with colleagues.
Probably one of Carney’s most important bills was the School and Safety Resiliency Act Bill (SB1) he championed with Wise in late 2017. It increased mental health funding for students and put funding in the budget for increasing the physical presence for arming school resource officers.
“Bam always talked about his roots in Knifley and I think that is something he carried with him until he passed,” Wise said. “He was humble, he had a great personality, and he had a knack for seeing the good in people. I think a lot of people will remember his wink and smile.”
By Scott Wilson