By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Because of confusion about how the Monroe County Republican Party executive committee was appointed, the Republican Party of Kentucky on Friday cancelled a nominating committee meeting scheduled for Saturday to choose a nominee to run for the vacated state Senate seat of David Williams.
The 16th Senate District covers Clinton, Cumberland, McCreary, Monroe, Wayne and Whitley counties and executive committees from each were to meet in Monticello on Saturday to choose a Republican nominee to run in a Dec. 18 special election called by Gov. Steve Beshear. The vacancy was created when Williams accepted Beshear’s appointment to the circuit bench.
At least two persons are seeking the Republican nomination: state Rep. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, and Albany attorney David Cross.
But a dispute arose Thursday evening and Friday about the composition of the Monroe County Executive Committee.
At least two members of the Monroe County Committee said they knew nothing of a meeting to name an executive committee and each thought she was scheduled to attend Saturday’s meeting.
When RPK Chairman Steve Robertson learned of the dispute, he began checking composition of the county committee as certified to party headquarters in March and an executive committee list sent him two weeks ago. Several names on the county list do not appear on the executive committee list while several on the executive committee roster are not on the county committee roster — which is not unusual or necessarily out of order.
(Party rules require the executive committee to be named by the county committee. Once in place, the executive committee then operates on behalf of and in place of the county committee. The present controversy arose because members of the county committee say they were never notified of a county committee meeting to choose an executive committee.)
To avoid any question about the authority of that committee to participate in Saturday’s scheduled nomination, Robertson ultimately decided to cancel the Saturday meeting.
Judy Baxter, a member of the county committee, said she could recall no meeting of the committee at which an executive committee was chosen.
Baxter said she called Dr. Jimmy Carter, the Monroe County Republican Party Chairman, Thursday night and asked him who selected the executive committee.
“He said Tommy Willett gave him the list,” Baxter said.
Willett, the Monroe County judge/executive, told CNHI News Friday, “I did throw out some names for (Carter) to consider. They were all good Republican party members and have been for a long time.”
Baxter’s name is not on the new list nor are 12 others from the county committee, including County Vice Chairman Dorothy Pare. Pare said in a phone interview Thursday evening that she also knew nothing of a meeting to select an executive committee.
Both women said they believed they were supposed to attend the Saturday nominating meeting and both planned to support Cross.
“I told Cross I’d be for him, and I guess that’s why they did it,” Baxter said after learning her name is not on the executive committee list. “They wanted to stack it.”
Carter, the county chairman, said the new executive committee was recently named and “the minutes justify the changes.” He said there was “no dispute at the time of the meeting.” He said advance notice was provided for the meeting.
Robertson said he had no evidence party rules were circumvented, but if there is a dispute among county committee members in Monroe County he wants to be certain the executive committee roster is valid before convening a nominating meeting.
Cross, the Albany attorney who is seeking the nomination, said he’d heard of the controversy but didn’t know until Friday morning that Saturday’s scheduled nominating meeting had been cancelled.
Cross has some history in Monroe County where he represented Jerry Hodges in a suit challenging the results of a Tompkinsville non-partisan mayoral race in the May 2006 primary. Hodges won all the city precincts but after absentee ballots were tallied his opponent, former Monroe County Sheriff Bev McClendon, was declared the winner by one vote.
But Hodges — represented by Cross — pursued the case in the courts and the election was ultimately thrown out by the Kentucky Supreme Court. During testimony at the Court of Appeals, however, witnesses said they witnessed vote-buying on the day of the election.
Ultimately, that resulted in a federal investigation which produced several indictments and convictions, including that of then Judge/Executive Wilbur Graves.
Cross was asked Friday if he thought that case may have led to an effort by some in the Monroe County party to deny him the nomination Saturday.
“That might have something to do with it,” Cross said.
Willett, the current judge/executive, was asked the same question.
“I basically had forgotten all about all of that to tell you the truth,” Willett responded.
Willett said he supports Gregory for the nomination, however.
“I am for Miss Gregory,” he said. “She came down here and I met her and she impressed me with what a good job she’d do as our senator.”
Gregory said the dispute is “an internal Monroe County matter and I have no reason to comment on it.”
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.