By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Republican state Rep. Sara Beth Gregory, of Monticello, and Democrat Bill Conn, a Williamsburg Independent School teacher, will square off in a Dec. 18 special election to fill out the unexpired 16th state Senate term of David Williams.
Gregory was nominated Wednesday night by the Republican District Committee covering Clinton, Cumberland, McCreary, Monroe, Wayne and Whitley counties. She defeated Clinton County attorney David Cross, who also sought the nomination.
Cross may have put in jeopardy his seat on the state Board of Elections with his candidacy, although he doesn’t think so.
According to Lynn Sowards Zellen, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes who is the chair of the elections board, Kentucky law (KRS 117.015) forbids a member of the board from being a candidate for office or for having been a candidate for two years prior to appointment.
“I have no plans to resign at this point in time because I don’t perceive it as any problem,” Cross said. He said he believes he would have had to resign only if he had been nominated.
“Pursuing a caucus nomination is not a formal candidacy,” Cross said.
But Zellen said Grimes “examined the statutes, including KRS 117.15, subsection 2, and the definition of a candidate contained in Kentucky Revised Statutes and considered the facts relayed to her by Mr. Cross.”
Zellen said Cross filed a letter of intent with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance which allows candidates to raise and spend money for a campaign.
Grimes “requested his resignation and explained that request to the chairman of the Kentucky Republican Party,” Zellen continued.
Cross said he “had a discussion with the secretary of state regarding my eligibility,” but wouldn’t say if he’d been asked to resign.
He considers it an honor to serve on the board and said it was never his intent to jeopardize that position. But Cross does not regret seeking the nomination.
“If it costs me my position on the board of elections, I’m still glad I ran,” he said. “It was something I felt compelled to do.”
As for his failing to secure the nomination, Cross said he feels “great.”
“I’m back doing what I’m good at, I’m back being a country lawyer and I guess that’s where I’ll stay,” Cross said. “I’m more proud than anything else that I received all 37 Clinton County votes than anything else.”
Gregory, 30, was just elected to her second state House term. She said she is “honored to be nominated and I’m looking forward to getting my campaign underway,” noting the compressed nature of the campaign before the Dec. 18 special election.
Conn, 29, has taught in the Williamsburg district for seven years. He is a graduate of the University of the Cumberlands.
“I am honored and humbled to have the Democratic nomination for the 16th District state senator,” Conn said in a press release following his nomination Wednesday night. “I enter this race with a desire to rise above petty, partisan politics and earnestly serve all the people of the six counties I hope to represent in Frankfort.”
The district is overwhelming Republican by registration. GOP voters outnumber Democrats by more than 5 to 2.
Conn seemed to acknowledge that disadvantage and the unpopularity of Democratic President Barack Obama who was just re-elected but lost Kentucky by a wide margin.
He said he does not agree with many views of the national party and said he is a proponent of coal and traditional social values.
“Kentuckians voted overwhelmingly against Barack Obama in no small part due to his venomous war on coal,” Conn said. “I am proud to be a pro-coal, pro-life, pro-gun, pro-family Democrat. Any attempts to portray (me) as anything but a hearty southern Kentucky conservative are absolutely ludicrous and 100 percent false.”
Gregory serves on the House Judiciary Committee and should she win the Dec. 18 special election over Conn she’d likely be a candidate to chair the Senate Judiciary. While it’s not a requirement that an attorney chair Judiciary, in practice that’s almost always the case.
There are only two Republican attorneys among incumbents in the Senate — Majority Leader Robert Stivers who is running for Senate President and President Pro Tem Katie Kratz Stine who is seeking re-election to the same post. Typically, those in leadership roles posts don’t also chair committees.
Another Republican attorney was elected to the Senate in the Nov. 6 election: Whitney Westerfield of Hopkinsville. But Gregory’s experience on the House Judiciary might make her a more suitable candidate for the position to Senate Republicans.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.