State House Races Will Determine Who Runs Frankfort Friday, Sep 9 2016 

Along with elections for president, U.S. Senate and Congress, Kentucky voters will decide in November the political control of the state House of Representatives, the last legislative chamber in the South controlled by Democrats.

Kentuckians have put more and more Republicans into office over the past few decades. Last year’s election brought a new crop of Republican constitutional officers to state government, including Gov. Matt Bevin, only the second Republican to hold the office in four decades.

The state also hasn’t voted for a Democratic president since 1996 or U.S. Senator since 1992.

But many Democrats have still had success on a local level. After four open House seats triggered special elections in March, Democrats stunned Republicans by winning three of the four seats.

Still, Democrats’ 95-year control of the state House is at a low watermark of 53 seats, while Republicans have 47.

State Republicans have viewed this year’s House races as a blitz opportunity. All 100 seats are up for reelection, and the GOP fielded candidates in 91 of the races. They need a net gain of four seats to take the House majority.

In all, 65 of the races are contested. Here’s a brief rundown of some of the races to watch this fall.

Races In Former Democratic Strongholds

3rd District, around Paducah: Democratic Rep. Gerald Watkins vs. Republican Joni Hogancamp

In 2014, Watkins held off Republican challenger Randy Bridges, who out-raised him by more than $20,000. This year, Republicans nominated Joni Hogancamp, co-owner of Caring People Services in Paducah.

Watkins is conservative on many social issues and said he wouldn’t be campaigning against Bevin’s proposed changes to the state’s expanded Medicaid system.

84th District, around Hazard: Democratic Rep. Fitz Steele vs. Chris Fugate

A staunch coal supporter, Steele was mentioned as a representative who might switch party affiliation to Republican after Bevin took office. CNHI reported that Steele admitted Bevin tried to encourage him to switch parties.

Fugate is a pastor and former Kentucky State Police detective.

Rematches Of Close Races

94th District, around Jackson: Democratic Rep. Cluster Howard vs. Republican Toby Herald

Herald was a state representative before losing to Howard by just 14 votes in 2014. Howard is a dean and student ombudsman at Hazard Community and Technical Colleges.

78th District, around Cynthiana: Democratic Rep. Tom McKee vs. Republican Mark Hart

McKee has held the seat since 1997, when he defeated Hart in 2014 by 969 votes. Hart is the former mayor of Falmouth.

Special Elections Redux

62nd District, around Georgetown: Democratic Rep. Chuck Tackett vs. Republican Phillip Pratt.

Tackett defeated Pratt in this year’s special election by just 253 votes. The election was triggered when former Rep. Ryan Quarles resigned to become state agriculture commissioner; Quarles defeated Tackett by a wide margin in 2014.

Pratt is the owner of a major landscaping company.

8th District, around Hopkinsville: Democratic Rep. Jeff Taylor vs. Republican Walker Thomas

Taylor won the March special election by a little more than 1,000 votes. Days before the election, President Barack Obama recorded a phone message encouraging voters in the district to support Taylor, who’s also African-American. Taylor is a retired Tennessee Valley Authority official. Thomas is a former Hopkinsville city councilman and owner of a roller skating rink.

Party Flippers:

12th District, around Providence: Republican Rep. Jim Gooch vs. Democrat Jim Townsend

Gooch switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican after Bevin became governor last year. As a legislator, Gooch famously proposed a bill that would have made Kentucky a “sanctuary state” from federal carbon regulations.

Townsend has been the judge-executive of Webster County since 1991.

38th District, in Louisville: Republican Rep. Denny Butler vs. Democrat McKenzie Cantrell

Butler, a former police officer, also switched to Republican after being a longtime Democrat. Cantrell, an attorney with the Equal Justice Center, defeated longtime Louisville Metro Councilman Dan Johnson in the primary. The district is heavily Democratic and voted twice for President Obama.

Open Seats:

94th District, around Pikeville: Democrat Angie Hatton vs. Republican Frank Justice

The seat is held by Democratic Rep. Leslie Combs, who was first elected in 2007 and is not seeking reelection. Justice is a former mayor of Pikeville, and Hatton is an assistant Letcher County Attorney.

23rd District, around Glasgow: Democrat Danny Basil vs. Republican Steve Riley

House Majority Whip Johnny Bell is not seeking reelection, leaving this seat open. Riley is a retired teacher and school principal. Basil is an attorney.

89.3 WFPL will air an hour-long news special on the state of Kentucky politics at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 9. Listen at 89.3 or

As Senate Races Blare Elsewhere, Kentucky’s Is Quiet Wednesday, Sep 7 2016 

Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race continues its sleepy pace past Labor Day as Democratic candidate Jim Gray fights to be competitive and the incumbent lays low, enjoying a Republican surge in the state.

Gray and Republican incumbent Rand Paul have — mostly through their spokespeople — squared off on issues such as revitalizing the coal industry, gun control and finding solutions to the opioid epidemic. But interest in the race has paled in comparison to the 2014 barnburner between Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Kentucky’s Democratic Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Steve Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky, said that’s partly due to there being so many competitive Senate races across the country.

“Both the Democrats themselves and the affiliated interest groups who often throw money into a Senate race have a really wide board on which to play the game this election,” Voss said.

Democrats are angling to take control of the Senate by unseating Republicans in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, drawing money and attention from groups including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which supported Grimes in 2014. So far, the DSCC has endorsed Gray but isn’t buying ads in Kentucky to support his campaign.

Still, at least 15 Democratic senators — including vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine — have contributed to Gray’s campaign via their political action committees, totaling more than $69,000.

As of the last report on June 30, Paul’s campaign had $2,223,624 on hand, including $609,050 in committee contributions. Gray had $1,077,308 in his campaign account, with $82,700 in committee contributions.

Though there has been a dearth of public polling on Kentucky’s Senate race this year, Paul’s incumbency and status after a high-profile presidential bid, along with Kentucky’s history of electing GOP senators, likely give him the advantage. Both the Center for Politics’ Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report list the race as heavily favoring Paul’s reelection.

Rand Paul at the NRA Convention in Louisville earlier this year.

Gray has distanced himself from Democrats in debates and advertisements, billing himself as a moderate who listens to both sides of the political aisle.

“I don’t believe every Democratic idea is a good idea or every Republican idea is a bad one,” Gray says in his first commercial of the general election, released Tuesday.

Although Democrats still make up a majority of voters in Kentucky — 51 percent compared with Republicans’ 40 percent — the state is trending GOP, with Republican voter registration far outpacing that of Democrats.

The last Democrat Kentuckians sent to the Senate was Wendell Ford, who was reelected for his final term in 1992. The last time Kentuckians voted to elect a Democratic president was Bill Clinton in 1996.

Voss said it’s unlikely that Paul would be sandbagged by Donald Trump’s presence on the ballot in November, though Trump might hurt Republican candidates in more liberal-leaning states.

“It’s not likely to matter much, especially since we have a lot of those Republican-leaning voters who tend to be favoring Trump,” Voss said.

Jim Gray at Fancy Farm this year.

On the issues, this year’s race has bubbled over into a bona fide argument a handful of times.

Most recently, Gray accused Paul of joining Senate Republicans in blocking a bill that would have provided $600 million in emergency funding to fight the growing heroin epidemic in the country. Paul countered, saying he voted for a budget bill last year that included $1.5 billion for the cause, though the bill also repealed major parts of the Affordable Care Act, which guaranteed Democrats would oppose it.

Gray also criticized Paul for opposing a bill that would have banned people on the FBI terrorist watch list from legally buying guns. Paul argued that he voted for a different bill that would have enabled law enforcement to postpone gun sales to suspected terrorists for up to 72 hours.

The two candidates have not appeared in the same room at the same time so far. Gray accused Paul of dodging a joint appearance at the Kentucky Farm Bureau last month. After the event, Paul said the two would debate sometime later in the race.

Gray: Kentucky Farm Bureau Should ‘Adapt To The Times’ On Gay Marriage Thursday, Aug 25 2016 

Lexington Mayor and U.S. Senate candidate Jim Gray says the Kentucky Farm Bureau should change its policies that oppose same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ issues.

“I think the Farm Bureau needs to adjust and adapt to the times, and that means adjusting their policies,” Gray said after wading through a crowd of pro-LGBTQ protesters outside the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s annual Ham Breakfast event in Louisville on Thursday morning.

A Democrat, Gray is openly gay and running against Republcian Sen. Rand Paul in his bid for reelection.

The Kentucky Fairness Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, has demonstrated outside of the annual event for years, opposing the Farm Bureau’s stances against same-sex marriage, domestic benefits for same-sex couples and abortion.

Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign, said his group’s opposition to the Kentucky Farm Bureau “is not going away.”

“People’s awareness is being raised about the fact that they’re buying into discrimination when they’re buying Kentucky Farm Bureau insurance,” Hartman said.

Last year, Hartman and activists Sonja de Vries and Carla Wallace were arrested while protesting the event. The charges were eventually dropped, though the activists later filed a lawsuit against the Kentucky State Police, alleging false arrest, First Amendment free speech violation, First Amendment retaliation and malicious prosecution.

Gray said he shares the concerns of the protesters and that he attended the event “to engage those who often have different points of view than I have.”

“I’ve learned that as mayor of the city and as a public servant that we often have to engage those who have different points of view in order to find common ground and shared values,” Gray said.

During his welcome address, KFB President Mark Haney defended the organization, which he said “does not discriminate” and bases its positions on input from members.

“We will not apologize for our democratic, grassroots process, the principles of which have served our nation very well for a long time and our organization for 97 years,” Haney said.

During his speech, Gov. Matt Bevin joked that the protesters outside the event were demonstrating against ham, the ostensible centerpiece of the event.

“I know some people don’t like ham, but I don’t know if you saw some of these people outside, they’re taking it to an extreme,” Bevin said. “Somebody asked me what I thought about these protesters and I thought, well, just don’t eat the ham, it’s alright.”

No protesters were arrested this year, though Hartman said state troopers told them they had to take down a large sign prohibited by longstanding Kentucky State Fair rules.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Louisville, and 6th Congressional District candidate Nancy Jo Kemper also joined the protests.

Yarmuth purchased a table at the Ham Breakfast in previous years but declined to go into the event on Thursday.

“Gay marriage is legal, so why you would have a policy saying you don’t recognize it is bizarre to me,” Yarmuth said.

Paul vs. Gray Headlines This Weekend’s Fancy Farm Picnic Wednesday, Aug 3 2016 

The 136th Fancy Farm Picnic, a fundraiser for St. Jerome Catholic Church, will take place this weekend in Graves County.

The contest between Republican Sen. Rand Paul and Democratic challenger Jim Gray is the most high profile race this year and both candidates will be in attendance, as will former agriculture commissioner James Comer and Hopkinsville Army veteran Sam Gaskins. They’re running for the 1st Congressional District seat being vacated by Ed Whitfield, who is retiring and will not attend Fancy Farm this year.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear is also skipping this year’s event, but he is speaking at the Marshall County Democratic Party’s bean supper on Friday night.

“This weekend I’m dividing my time between the political events in west Kentucky and my family,” Beshear said in a statement. “I will be in west Kentucky for Friday’s events. Saturday I will attend my children’s first ever play. After the last two years running for AG, it’s important Fancy to spend the last weekend before school starts with my kids at their play.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes’ invitation to speak is still pending.

All of the Republicans elected to statewide office last year will take a victory lap at Fancy Farm, led by Gov. Matt Bevin.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will also speak this year. McConnell recently indicated a “great likelihood” he will seek a seventh term in 2020.

Kentucky state Sen. Ralph Alvarado will speak on behalf of Trump’s campaign. Alvarado, a first-term lawmaker from Clark County, previously called for Hispanic voters to support Trump at last month’s Republican National Convention.

Michael W. Wallace will speak on behalf of Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. Fancy Farm organizer Mark Wilson says an invitation to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign is still pending, as of Wednesday afternoon.

Conservative columnist Scott Jennings is the emcee of this year’s event. A full list of confirmed speakers is below:

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R)
  • Sen. Rand Paul (R)
  • Lexington Mayor and Senate candidate Jim Gray (D)
  • Gov. Matt Bevin (R)
  • Treasurer Allison Ball (R)
  • Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles (R)
  • Auditor Mike Harmon (R)
  • Candidate for Congress James Comer (R)
  • Candidate for Congress Sam Gaskins (D)
  • Kentucky 1st District State Sen. Stan Humphries (R)
  • Kentucky 2nd District State Rep. Richard Heath (R)
  • Kentucky 2nd District candidate Jesse Wright (D)
  • Kentucky 28th District State Sen. Ralph Alvarado (R)
  • Michael W. Wallace (Surrogate for Libertarian Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign)

Rand Paul Pushes For Criminal Justice Reform At Louisville Stop Friday, Jun 24 2016 

Sen. Rand Paul stopped at a Louisville Goodwill on Friday to talk about ways to help people with criminal records return to the workforce.

Paul has made criminal justice reform a key initiative during his time in Washington, though the Senate hasn’t passed any major proposals.

Goodwill operates programs that help people with criminal records enter the workforce. On Friday Goodwill and KentuckianaWorks presented their “Re-Entry By Design” program, which helps people on probation or parole put together resumes, prepare for interviews and ultimately find a job.

At the event, Paul said family values-oriented Republicans should logically support legislation that helps people find work despite their criminal records.

“If I’m a Republican and I say ‘I’m for family values’ and ‘I want families to be together’ and ‘I want dads to be around,’ well, dads can’t be in prison for 20 years for a nonviolent crime they committed when they were 21 or you don’t have family values,” Paul said.

Paul voiced support for the felony expungement bill that Gov. Matt Bevin signed into law in April. The bill makes people with certain Class D felonies eligible to have the offenses cleared if they pay a $500 fee. Applicants only become eligible five years after their sentences are complete.

Paul also called for a compromise on state legislation to restore voting rights to some ex-felons. In 2014, Paul voiced support for a bill that would have automatically restored voting rights to felons once they completed their sentences. The bill failed, with House Democrats opposing a five-year waiting period Senate Republicans tacked onto the measure.

Paul said he disapproved of former Gov. Steve Beshear’s executive order that automatically granted voting rights to about 180,000 non-violent ex-felons — a move that Bevin rescinded during his first weeks in office.

“Some of us want to see it done by the legislature,” Paul said. “[Beshear] was sort of doing it transiently by executive order. If we’re going to do it, let’s fix it and change the law.”

Paul has pushed several pieces of federal criminal justice reform, including reduction of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, expungement of felony records and restoration of voting rights, though the proposals haven’t garnered enough support to get a floor vote.

A Republican, Paul is running for reelection to his Senate seat against Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, a Democrat.

In Other News… Kentucky primary winners, Calipari wants to stay at UK, Lawrence talks ‘X-Men’ return Friday, May 20 2016 

sanders clinton

Primary Colors: Your Kentucky Democratic Primary was this past Tuesday, allowing the state to weigh in on its choice: Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont or former Sen. of New York and Sec. of State Hillary Clinton. The winner: too close to call, at least at first, until finally, with the narrowest of margins, Hillary Clinton was […]

With Primary, Rand Paul Eases Back Into Kentucky Politics Saturday, May 14 2016 

Riding a wave of notoriety from his failed presidential campaign, Sen. Rand Paul has returned to Kentucky, relatively unscathed, to run for re-election to his U.S. Senate seat.

Paul has an easy path to securing the nomination in Tuesday’s primary election. With no major challengers this year, he hasn’t run TV ads or participated in public debates. Paul has appeared in a series of town hall meetings across the state, touting his platform, which is essentially the same as it was during his 2010 race.

A vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act, environmental regulations and intervention in foreign wars, Paul voted against budget compromises that would have avoided a government shutdown in 2013. On the campaign trail in Kentucky this spring, he defended the move.

“My point is that maybe it needs to shut down so we can fix it,” he said. “We have to do something about it.”

There are two Republicans running against Paul — Lexington financial analyst James Gould and Louisville engineer Stephen Slaughter. Both are political newcomers and haven’t run high-profile campaigns.

On his website, Slaughter says he supports construction of the Keystone-XL pipeline and creating jobs by re-industrializing  the country.

“This will provide options for those that are currently or formerly working in the coal industry,” he states.

Gould says on his website that he wants to lift economic sanctions against Russia and “freeze domestic national spending on programs to respond to the rate of inflation and population growth.”

According to the Morehead News, Gould’s only other run for public office was for Morehead City Council when he was a 21-year-old student at Morehead State.

During the 2010 primary, Paul summoned Tea Party support to defeat former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who had been endorsed by Sen. Mitch McConnell. Paul’s isolationist views on foreign policy and surveillance fell out of favor on the national level, though, after growing worries about terrorism at home and abroad.

Paul mitigates his isolationist stance by saying he favors Ronald Reagan’s “Peace through Strength” mantra — that force is a necessary means to achieve peace. And the main plank of his platform is the same as it was when he was first elected in 2010: reduce federal spending.

“As a government, we have to do what you all do: Spend what comes in,” he says. “We have to balance our budget. I’m afraid they’re not listening to us, that maybe what we really need is an amendment to the Constitution that says ‘enough is enough,’ you can only spend what comes in.”

Paul won the influential Conservative Political Action Conference presidential straw poll three years in a row. He suspended his presidential bid earlier this year, after a poor showing in the Iowa Republican Caucus.

The primary is Tuesday, May 17.

Kentucky’s Democratic Candidates For Senate Debate Tuesday, Apr 19 2016 

A crowded field of Democrats wants to unseat Republican Sen. Rand Paul this fall, even though Kentucky hasn’t sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1992.

During an hour-long debate hosted by Simmons College and WHAS-11 Tuesday evening, the six candidates weighed in on how Democrats could turn the political momentum around in Kentucky and declared why they were the best man to beat Paul in the general election.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, owner of Gray Construction, said Democrats need to rally around broad economic policies that create jobs.

“The Democratic Party has been at the front edge of raising the economic boat, always,” Gray said, highlighting New Deal-era polices like the Works Progress Administration and infrastructure projects like the interstate highway system.

Gray said Kentuckians would come out to vote for him over Paul because people are tired of “politics as usual.”

“Citizens are tired of the gridlock in Washington, and there is a lot of economic anxiety. All of that translates into a high turnout in the fall,” he said.

Sellus Wilder, a former city commissioner in Frankfort and environmentalist, said he’s running to provide a “progressive voice” in the Democratic Party, which he feel has skewed conservative.

“I realize an authentic progressive campaign might be a longshot in Kentucky, but I think it’s the only shot we’ve got in taking down Rand,” Wilder said.

Wilder criticized past Democratic candidates who joined Republicans in demonizing federal regulations of the coal industry even though market pressures have contributed as well.

Wilder said he won’t beat Jim Gray in fundraising, but he said he’s thrown hope behind on-the-ground campaigning, social media and attention from the press.

“The hope is just that this message is strong enough that it resonates through these channels, and so far that’s been going pretty well,” he said.

Ron Leach, a physician’s assistant and military veteran, criticized the nominating process for favoring candidates who have money to self-fund their campaigns, like Gray.

“The process that says only millionaires and billionaires need apply will lead to the same results we keep getting election after election,” said Leach, who lost to Rep. Brett Guthrie in a race for the second congressional district in 2014.

According to his campaign, Jim Gray raised $1.75 million in the first quarter of this year — $1 million of which he loaned to his cause.

“This primary will be bought by someone who will lose in double digits in the general election and will take other candidates down with him,” Leach said.

Jeff Kender, a factory worker from Phelps; Tom Recktenwald of Louisville; and Rory Houlihan of Winchester are also running for the nomination.

Grant Short of Owensboro dropped out of the race ahead of the debate.

The Democratic primary election is May 17. The winner will face the victor of the Republican primary: Rand Paul, James Gould or Stephen Howard Slaughter.

Climate Hawks Vote Endorses Sellus Wilder For U.S. Senate. Friday, Apr 8 2016 

Click here to visit Sellus Wilder’s Wilder for Senate Facebook Page and here to visit his Wilder for Senate website. Some of you may be familiar with Sellus Wilder’s film “The End of the Line.” Climate Hawks Vote We’re delighted … Continue reading →

The post Climate Hawks Vote Endorses Sellus Wilder For U.S. Senate. appeared first on Hillbilly Report.

Can A Liberal Democrat Win A Statewide Election In Kentucky? Friday, Apr 8 2016 

When they’re running for statewide office, Kentucky Democrats and Republicans usually have something in common: They embrace the state’s coal culture and attack federal regulations of the signature industry.

But Sellus Wilder, a Democrat running a longshot campaign for U.S. Senate this year, wants his party to stop pandering.

“We never have honest conversations on the state of the coal industry,” Wilder said. “Environmental regulation has contributed to the decline of the coal industry, but it’s hardly the most important factor.”

Wilder is running in the crowded seven-person field for the Democratic Senate nomination. The winner will face Sen. Rand Paul in November.

The man to beat in the primary is Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who, according to his campaign, raised $1.75 million in the first quarter of this year — $1 million of which he loaned to the cause.

Wilder said Gray is avoiding progressive policies and that Kentucky politicians generally focus too much on EPA regulations of the coal industry.

“People in Kentucky aren’t stupid,” he said. “They know that they’ve been sold the same story over and over again, and that their lives haven’t been getting any better.”

In last year’s gubernatorial race, Democratic candidate Jack Conway touted his record as attorney general suing the EPA for its regulations of the coal industry. In the 2014 race for Senate, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes similarly framed herself as a pro-coal candidate.

And for years, Democratic elected officials — especially, but not exclusively, ones outside of Kentucky’s major metropolitan areas — have run against coal regulation.

Wilder said Democratic politicians haven’t made an effort to “challenge the paradigm.”

“Nobody’s even tried to run a campaign that actually puts coal mining communities and the people in them above industrial profits,” he said.

Wilder is getting attention for his position. He’s garnered the endorsements of activist group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and philanthropist Christy Lee Brown, who co-hosted a fundraiser for him in Louisville last week.

But the political realities of running a pro-environment campaign in Kentucky are steep, according to Steve Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky.

“The typical voter is not an ideologue and isn’t looking for grand, sweeping solutions,” he said. “They just want people to solve problems in a practical way.”

Gray has run a quiet campaign so far. In a late-February interview with Kentucky Public Radio, he said the coal industry is “in a major transformation.”

“That means that a really meaningful and intentional and deliberate effort to diversify the economy is essential,” he said.

Gray said he supports the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative, a program designed to bring awareness to the region’s future co-founded by Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers and former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, to help in those efforts.

Brown, the Louisville philanthropist, has in the past held sway over candidates’ fortunes via a strong network of donors, said she’s supporting Wilder because of his focus on the environment.

“My hope is that it will begin to solidify a progressive, healthy voice for Kentucky,” she said. “Because I think it’s been desperately lacking. It is what will empower those of us who have become not so inspired by the political system.”

The Democratic primary is on May 17. Voters have to register by April 18 to participate.

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