KET Legislative Coverage

With Edelen Out, Where Does That Leave Governor's Race?

by John Gregory | 06/23/14 11:49 AM

The 2015 contest for Kentucky governor has shifted again as another high-profile Democrat opted not to run.

The journalists on Comment on Kentucky discussed the decision by Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen, who announced last week that he would seek re-election to his current office rather than run for governor.

Although Edelen said he was concerned about how a gubernatorial bid would impact his family, Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Joe Gerth says the auditor also faced tough competition from fellow Democrat Jack Conway. Gerth points to the attorney general's personal wealth and strong name recognition around the state. Although Edelen had laid significant groundwork for a campaign, Gerth says he would have had to devote substantial money just to build his identity with Kentucky voters.

Edelen's decision does open the race to other potential Democratic challengers. Gerth says the list includes former Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, current Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, and Lexington banker Luther Deaton.

On the Republican side, Gerth reports that Louisville businessman Hal Heiner is traveling the state, raising money for his campaign, and boosting his own name recognition against potential GOP challenger James Comer, the state’s agriculture secretary. That may force Comer to enter the race sooner than he had once anticipated. WKYT-TV anchor Bill Bryant says the Tea Party may also field candidates for governor. One name he's heard is Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott.

The U.S. Senate contest
Coal continues to be a prominent issue in the U.S. Senate race between Alison Lundergan Grimes and Sen. Mitch McConnell. Bill Estep, who covers southern and eastern Kentucky for the Lexington Herald-Leader, says the coal industry's influence has dominated Appalachia for so long that people there will support the candidate they believe will most help mining, even while the industry remains in steep decline. Although coal is also important to the western Kentucky economy, Estep believes the issue is not as significant to voters there.

Last week the Senate candidates entered the debate over replacing the aging Brent Spence Bridge between northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. Grimes supports a plan to pay for the project by closing tax loopholes for wealthy individuals and corporations. McConnell wants to fund the work by repealing the 1931 Davis Bacon Act, which mandates paying the prevailing wage on federal projects. He would apply the resulting savings to the bridge project and other infrastructure repairs. The Courier-Journal's Joe Gerth says neither idea has a chance of passing Congress.

Lobbyists and school debt
The 2014 General Assembly session proved to be lucrative for lobbyists in the commonwealth. Laura Cullen Glasscock of the Kentucky Gazette reports that more than 600 lobbyists earned a record-breaking $7.6 million this year to lobby 138 lawmakers. Former Kentucky Secretary of State Bob Babbage was the highest paid of the group, grossing $340,000 for the 60-day session. The top spender was the state Chamber of Commerce.

In other reporting, Glasscock recently examined debt carried by public school systems around the commonwealth. The 173 local districts she studied are carrying $7.3 billion in bonding debt. Although she found no problems with school systems paying those debts, Glasscock says the total comes to more than $10,000 per public school student. Most of the bonding is for construction of new facilities.

Watch the full Comment on Kentucky program for more on these issues, as well as discussion about the state Supreme Court ruling against a smoking ban in Shepherdsville, and the latest developments in the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative.