, Corbin, KY

State News

June 13, 2013

House seat race has state interest

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

It’s a special June 25 election for a traditional Democratic House seat representing Woodford County and parts of Fayette and Franklin counties.

But the outcome will likely have consequences for the entire state.

Republicans are the minority in the House with 45 seats to the Democrats’ 54. But they have hopes of taking over in the 2014 elections and they view this election as the first step.

The vacancy occurred when Democrat Carl Rollins of Midway resigned his seat to take a job with the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority.

Republican Lyen Crews, vice president of business and financial affairs at Midway College, Democrat James L. Kay II, an attorney who worked most recently for House Democrats; and independent John-Mark Hack, a former official in the Paul Patton administration, are the candidates.

Democrats have held the seat for years and enjoy a registration advantage of just over 18,000 to just over 10,000. Money will be critical, too.

Kay raised around $90,000 during the first reporting period, while Crews took in just under $50,000. Hack, who has said he will have enough to run a competitive race, has raised only about $6,000. Both state parties contributed to their candidates.

But outside groups are putting money in as well, primarily on the Republican side.

The Republican Leadership Committee, based in Washington D.C., has spent more than $60,000 on behalf of Crews who in 2010 came within 740 votes of upsetting Rollins.

Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, the House Democratic Caucus Chair, said Kay has generated most of the financial support inside the district while “statewide and national PACs and corporate money are trying to buy the race” for Crews. She said Kay’s fundraising edge shows his support from local voters.

But that outside money being spent on behalf of Crews is also an indication how important the race is to Republicans. But it’s just as important for Democrats, said Danny Briscoe, a Louisville political consultant and former Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman.

“If Democrats don’t win, then it gives momentum to the Republicans and further narrows their margin,” Briscoe said.

“Whether it’s accurate or not, there’s a feeling out there that the Republicans are getting closer and closer to the majority,” Briscoe continued. “Republicans seem to believe they can take over in 2014. If they win this race, it just gives them more momentum.”

“It is very important to us for many reasons,” said Rep. John “Bam” Carney of Campbellsville, the House Republican Whip. “It’s huge for 2014 because it will continue the momentum we gained in 2012.” That was the year, Republicans picked up four seats to create the current alignment.

Overly said Democrats see the special election as an opportunity for Democrats to “generate momentum for our caucus and actually growing that momentum for us in 2014.” She said Democrats are determined to hold onto their House majority.

The race will look familiar to Kentucky voters, even those unfamiliar with central Kentucky politics.

Carney didn’t take long to mention the name of Barack Obama, signaling a likely Republican strategy. One television ad has already been broadcast saying Kay helped implement Obama’s health care reform and suggesting Hack, as a former Democrat, isn’t likely to be much different.

Overly said that isn’t the issue for the voters in the district. Education and jobs are the issues on voters’ minds, she said.

Carney, House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover and several other Republican lawmakers have already visited the district to campaign on behalf of Crews and raise money.

So have Democrats, according to Overly. They’re going door-to-door, manning phone banks and helping Kay raise money.

Special elections — especially those outside the usual fall and spring election cycles — are notorious for low turnouts. That’s part of the reason so much attention is focused on the race.

But Overly said that may actually favor Democrats and Kay because low turnout elections tend to be “decided by your core voters, your base — and that’s a Democratic district.”

Carney talked about Democrats’ having held the uninterrupted majority in the House since 1922. (Republicans have controlled the state Senate since 2000.)

“If people truly aren’t happy with the House leadership over the last 90 years, and I think they give it a poor grade, then I’d suggest it’s time to try some new ideas,” said Carney.

Those new ideas are likely to translate into support for such things a right-to-work laws, repeal of the prevailing wage law, greater restrictions on abortion, resistance to the expansion of Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act and more business-friendly tax codes — all of which currently enjoy support in the Republican Senate.

So while much of Kentucky may pay little attention to the June 25 election, the results could have a dramatic impact on the political landscape of all of Kentucky.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at

Text Only
State News
  • Grimes comes out firing on McConnell

    Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Democratic Secretary of State who is challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in this fall’s elections, went after the five-term incumbent in a speech here to a convention of local county officials.

    July 11, 2014

  • Conway, Comer address judge-execs

    It might have been a preview of next year’s Kentucky governor’s election — but county officials here for a convention probably didn’t expect one likely candidate to endorse a potential opponent.

    July 11, 2014

  • McConnell, Grimes parade cases

    Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes know a good place to look for votes when they see it.

    July 7, 2014

  • McConnell, Grimes disagree on contraception case

    Kentucky’s Republican congressman praised Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that corporations may opt out of a requirement to provide employees contraceptive coverage through insurance plans.

    July 1, 2014

  • Beshear sings praises of Affordable Care Act

    Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear told a Washington conference Tuesday that Kentucky’s embrace of the Affordable Care Act has been “life-changing” for thousands of Kentucky enrollees and “transformative” for Kentucky.

    June 18, 2014

  • Kentucky actually fares well under new EPA regs

    Kentucky politicians and the coal industry howled about the latest installment of greenhouse gas emission regulations issued last week by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

    June 16, 2014

  • New EPA C02 regs examined

    Given their complexity and potential impact in coal-dependent states like Kentucky, there’s considerable confusion about new carbon emission regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.

    June 16, 2014

  • State budget officials predict ‘significant shortfall’

    With only 20 days left in the 2014 fiscal year, state budget officials announced Tuesday Kentucky faces an “inevitable” and “significant” revenue shortfall in both the General and Road Funds.

    June 11, 2014

  • Grimes ad blasts Obama for coal policies

    Mitch McConnell is no longer the only U.S. Senate candidate running against Democratic President Barack Obama.

    June 5, 2014

  • Legislative leaders blast carbon regs

    President Barack Obama’s efforts to rein in carbon emissions, blamed by science for changes in the climate, continues to draw harsh criticism from both political parties in Kentucky.

    June 5, 2014