Ahead of today’s elections, KET’s Kentucky Tonight assembled a panel of political experts to discuss several of the key races and candidates on the ballot this year.
The guests were Morgan Eaves, an education consultant and former advisor and liaison for Gov. Andy Beshear; Rebecca Hartsough, a senior policy advisor for the lobbying firm Babbage Cofounder; Bob Heleringer, a former state representative and an opinion contributor to the Louisville Courier Journal; and Mike Ward, a former Congressman for Kentucky's 3rd district.
Current Metro Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat, is term-limited after 12 years in office, leaving voters to choose from Republican Bill Dieruf and Democrat Craig Greenberg. An accountant by training, Dieruf has been mayor of Jeffersontown since 2010. Greenberg is an attorney and former CEO of the 21c Museum Hotels chain.
Heleringer says Louisville is ready for a change because the city faces escalating crime, terrible race relations, little economic development, and a deserted downtown. He says Dieruf has crucial experience running Jefferson County’s second largest city and does not have an ideological agenda like some other national Republicans.
“He just wants to run a good city and make progress, and make Louisville, again, one of the major cities in America,” says Heleringer. “We just have got to make a break from the past and Bill Dieruf represents that break.”
Ward acknowledges voters are worried about crime, but he says Louisville is nowhere near as dangerous or scary as Republicans try to paint the city. He agrees that people want a new direction for the city, but says Greenberg is the best candidate to provide that, given his varied civic activities, including serving as on the University of Louisville Board of Trustees.
“The Republican candidate is hardly a new direction,” says Ward. “Craig Greenberg comes from the private sector but has been deeply involved in other community activities.”
The contest for mayor in Lexington features incumbent Linda Gorton and challenger David Kloiber, a city councilmember and the head of his family’s charitable foundation. (Mayoral campaigns in Lexington are nonpartisan.)
Although Kloiber has pumped significant amounts of his own money into his campaign, Hartsough says she still expects Gorton to win reelection. Eaves says the race is giving Kloiber, a registered Democrat, good campaign experience and will increase his name recognition across the community, which will position him well for future campaigns.
Both candidates have come out against the proposed amendment to the Kentucky Constitution on abortion. Eaves says this was a good political play by Gorton, a registered Republican and nurse by training, because it will help the incumbent appeal to liberals who may have otherwise been hesitant to vote for her.
In Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional district, Democratic state Sen. Morgan McGarvey faces Republican businessman Stuart Ray. Sitting Democrat John Yarmuth is retiring after nearly 15 years in Congress.
Ward says McGarvey will win the race in the heavily Democratic district that comprises most of Jefferson County. He says McGarvey’s experience in the state Senate, where he was able to pass bills despite being in the minority, will serve him well in the U.S. House of Representatives, which Ward says could flip to Republican control after today’s voting.
Heleringer says Stuart Ray would be a “breath of fresh air” for the district. He contends Ray has a good shot at winning the race thanks to the candidate’s experience building a Fortune 500 company, meeting payroll, and dealing with government regulations.
In the U.S. Senate Race, Heleringer says incumbent Republican Rand Paul will coast to victory over Democratic challenger Charles Booker, a former state representative from Louisville.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment on Abortion
Proposed amendment 2 would add language to the state constitution that says nothing in the document protects an individual’s right to an abortion or requires government funding for the procedure. Hartsough says she expects the fate of the amendment to hinge on the margin of turnout in urban versus rural parts of the state.
“In the Louisville, Lexington areas, and more of your urban areas, it’s probably going to fail, but your more rural areas, it’s going to pass,” says Hartsough. “It’s certainly something that we don’t know which way it’s going to go.”
Eaves says the amendment would remove a critical constitutional protection for women. She contends a majority of Kentuckians support some exceptions to a total ban and will ultimately vote no on the amendment.
“Amendment number 2 is really a draconian measure that would take away the power of women to make their own health care decisions and put it in hands of partisan-elected politicians,” says Eaves.
Heleringer says nothing in the proposed amendment would preclude legislators from changing state law in the future to allow abortions. He says this simply prevents “an activist judge” from overturning the state’s current bans on the procedure by claiming a constitutional right to an abortion in the commonwealth.
Ward contends the bans now in place are too extreme, saying it’s embarrassing to be from a state that would force a 12-year-old rape victim to carry a pregnancy to birth. He says women must have the right to make their own health care decisions.
State Legislative Races
In state House district 33, incumbent Republican Jason Nemes faces Democrat Kate Turner in the race to represent eastern Jefferson County and parts of Oldham and Shelby counties.
Heleringer describes Nemes as a moderate Republican who wants to abolish the death penalty and legalize sports betting and medical marijuana. Hartsough says redistricting has made the 33rd even more of a Republican stronghold, which should benefit Nemes. Ward says Turner’s strong Oldham County roots and hard work to canvas the district will serve her well in the contest.
Democratic state Rep. Patti Minter faces Republican Kevin Jackson in state House district 20 that covers a portion of Warren County. Both candidates have education backgrounds: Minter is a professor of history at Western Kentucky University, and Jackson is a retired teacher and coach who now works as a financial consultant.
Eaves says redistricting added more Republican-heavy areas to the 20th, which could hinder Minter’s chances for reelection. But she says the Democrat has been deeply involved in the community for many years. Hartsough says Minter will benefit from her profile at WKU, and from opposition to the proposed amendment on abortion. But she adds that Jackson has the support of local leaders and is recognized for his service on the local school board and chamber of commerce.
Northern Kentucky’s House district 65 was also redrawn to include more Republican strongholds in Kenton County. There, incumbent Democrat Buddy Wheatley faces Republican Stephanie Dietz. Hartsough says redistricting and strong financial backing from the GOP should help Dietz flip that district.
The retirement of state Sen. Paul Hornback left an open race in Senate district 20, which under redistricting now comprises Carroll, Franklin, and Gallatin Counties as well as parts of Boone and Kenton Counties. That race features Gex Williams, a businessman and former Republican legislator, against former Franklin County Judge-Executive Teresa Barton.
Eaves says Williams’ previous tenure in the legislature proves that he is too far to the right for most voters in that district. She says Barton has good bipartisan credentials from her time as one of the few Democrats to serve in the administration of former Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Heleringer says the Republican areas of the district outside of Frankfort will carry Williams to victory.
Two judicial races in central Kentucky are drawing greater-than-usual attention this year. These traditionally non-partisan contests have seen significant campaign spending from special interest groups.
In the race for Franklin Circuit Court Judge, incumbent Judge Phillip Shepherd faces Joe Bilby, an attorney in the state Commissioner of Agriculture’s office.
The Franklin circuit hears many cases challenging laws and orders enacted by state government, and Republicans have frequently complained about Shepherd’s rulings. But Heleringer contends Shepherd has been balanced in his decisions.
“I think he’s an outstanding judge,” says Heleringer. “He has ruled in favor of Republican administrations almost as much as he has Democratic.”
Ward says the partisan attacks that are being leveled against the popular Shepherd will be counterproductive.
“Republicans actually have awakened some sleeping voters in an off-year election by going after him the way they have,” says Ward, who worked with Shepherd in the Gov. Brereton Jones administration.
Allegations of partisanship have also entered the contest for justice in the 6th state Supreme Court district in northern Kentucky. There, incumbent Justice Michelle Keller faces state Rep. Joe Fischer, who is touting his stance as a conservative Republican.
“He’s been a legislator for 25 years, he’s got a voting record that’s a mile long on every kind of issue,” says Heleringer. “It’s kind of refreshing in a way to have a judicial candidate to know where they stand on things.”
But Eaves says people appearing in court shouldn’t be able to identify a judge or justice based on their politics. She says court decisions should only be about the law, not partisan positions.
“It is wrong on either side to bill yourself as a progressive or a conservative candidate. That’s what makes people distrust the justice system,” says Eaves. “I think any candidate campaigning like that should have serious consequences from the Kentucky Bar Association.”