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Kentucky Elects First African American Woman to State Legislature in 20 Years

Attica Scott becomes the first African-American in the Kentucky General Assembly since 2000. Attica Scott / Facebook

After winning a three person primary race last night and defeating a long time incumbent, Attica Scott will be the first African American woman to serve in Kentucky's State Legislature in 20 years.

Last night, Scott won the Democratic primary for Kentucky's 41st House District. She defeated Tom Riner who had served in the Kentucky House since 1992, and Phil Baker. Scott won 54 percent of the vote to Riner's 31 percent.

Scott has no Republican challenger to face on election day November 8.

Attica Scott announced her victory via Twitter, writing, "Representative Riner just called to concede. Thank you to every single one of you who believed that we could do it. Great job, folks!"

In an interview with NBCBLK, Scott spoke about the race, her challenger, and what her priorities will be when she takes her seat.

Several sitting members of the Kentucky legislature supported Scott's run.

"It feels amazing to be the first Black women in almost two decades to be elected to the legislature in Frankfort — that's huge. I'm representing a district that is 50 percent Black and 50 percent white so that says that people across the district regardless of race believed in my leadership and also knew it was time for a new voice and a fresh face," Scott said today.

Former Metro Council member Attica Scott outside.

Scott's race was assisted by the last African American to serve in state government in Kentucky, former state Rep. Eleanor Jordan, who she describes as a mentor.

"She supported my campaign and wrote a joint letter to the district letting everyone know that she supported me. That says a lot. She has been one of my political mentors and I appreciate the fact that she's a Black women who actually ran for Congress. She didn't win but she did run in 1999 and left the legislature in 2000," Scott explained.

"During the campaign it was really about highlighting that we needed a new voice and a fresh face in Frankfurt. We had this 34-year incumbent who was anti-LGBT and anti-women's rights. He was a Democrat in name only and refused to caucus with the Democrats since the 1990s, so it was really about highlighting and exposing his record and lifting up my social justice agenda," Scott said.

Scott told NBCBLK that Riner was "still stuck in the 1980s — he was elected in 1982," adding, "We needed representation that was 21st Century thinking and forward thinking and he was not that person."

Scott believes she is that person to design and implement more modern and effective policies when she takes office. A mother of two, Scott holds an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Knoxville College (a historically Black college) and a graduate degree in Communications from the University of Tennessee. She is also a certified anti-racism trainer and known for community organizing around racial equality and criminal justice.

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"We need to look at juvenile justice reform. You may be familiar with the death of Gynnya McMillen, in one of our juvenile detention facilities," Scott said.

McMillen, who was 16, died on January 11 at Kentucky's Lincoln Village Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Elizabethtown, Ky. In March, Kentucky State Medical Examiner ruled that McMillen had a rare genetic heart related disorder. But an internal investigation also discovered that there was "a pattern of employee misconduct" at the facility.

Former Metro Council member Attica Scott speaks at a forum. Attica Scott

"We have to look at how we are incarcerating our young people — particularly Black and Latino girls, We need to look at the state minimum wage... We need to look at what we're doing to restore people who are formally incarcerated into society. Whether it's the restoration of voting rights for people formally incarcerated or banning the box so folks can have a second chance and become employable.

"There's lots of issues we need to address and that's part of my agenda going into Frankfort and building relationships with my colleagues at the state level so that we can get some of this good work done," Scott told NBCBLK.

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She also spoke of the coalitions she built to win.

"Millennials got engaged in the political process with my campaign and donated and voted for the first time ever for me to be their state representative. That says a lot. It also shows how intergenerational this campaign was because from millennials to people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s — literally — who support me and voted for me, it says a lot about where we are taking this district and quite frankly where we want to see Kentucky go," Scott said.

In 2010 Scott graduated from the first class of Emerge Kentucky, an organization which prepares Democratic women to run for office. As a City Council member from 2011-2014, Scott worked on issues ranging from affordable housing to labor and economic development.

Last year, Republican Jenean Hampton became the first African American woman to hold an elected office statewide in Kentucky's history after she was selected by GOP gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin in 2015. Hampton lost a race for State Representative in 2014.

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