My Old Kentucky Podcast — Episode 4

Kentucky House Elections

  • The Kentucky House is the “only legislative body in the South still held by Democrats.” In reality, beside Illinois (both chambers Dem), Kentucky joins Iowa, Minnesota, Colorado, and New Mexico as the only states not bordering an ocean with a Democratic chamber (except Vermont).
  • Kentucky Democrats hold 53–47 edge in the state house. After Governor Bevin was elected, there was a special election for 4 house seats — two were held by Democrats, two by GOP. Democrats won in 3 of the elections.
  • Ballotpedia ranks the KY House as one of the 20 most competitive chambers in the country for the 2016 election. According to that website, 66 seats in the chamber are competitive — which is a huge percentage relatively (14 seats were competitive in 2014).
  • The National Republican State Legislative Committee has designated the KY house as one of its most targeted chambers. They are probably somewhat embarrassed that KY has held out for Dems for so long.
  • There are eight retiring incumbents: 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans. All eight of those seats are being contested by both parties.
  • The GOP is trying very hard to nationalize the race for these house seats, and make this a race against Hillary Clinton. The Democrats are trying to make these races about local issues.
  • As a guideline for races to watch, we will review Ballotpedia’s rankings PLUS some great reporting by Ronnie Ellis in the Glasgow Daily Times:

Incumbent Democrats who might lose:

  • District 3 (Paducah): Gerald Watkins has served as Paducah’s State House Representative since 2012, but only won his last election by 7%. He is being challenged by Joni Hogancamp, who owns an adult care services firm.
  • District 62 (Scott/Owen Co): This seat was won by Chuck Tackett in a special election. It was a Democratic pickup — Ryan Quarles, the Secretary of Agriculture, served in this seat prior. Quarles himself won this seat in surprising fashion, beating Democrat Charlie Hoffman, who had served this district since 1997. Tackett is facing off against Phillip Pratt in a rematch — he beat Pratt in the special election.
  • District 91 (5 EKY counties): Cluster Howard, the incumbent Democrat, won this seat by fewer than 20 votes last time. Howard picked up this seat for Democrats by beating Toby Herald. Herald defeated a Democratic incumbent in 2012 by fewer than 1% of the vote. This is a teeter-totter district! Herald won the GOP primary in a closer race, also.
  • District 92 (Knott/Pike/Magoffin County): This is usually a safe Democratic district, but the incumbent John Short is caught up in some legal trouble, having been connected to a vote buying scandal in Magoffin County. Short hasn’t been charged, but a witness implicated him. This district was unopposed in 2014 and Short won in 2012 with 76% of the vote. The challenger in this district is a State Police Trooper named John Blanton.

Open Democratic Seats:

  • District 23 (Barren/Warren Co): Johnny Bell retired after serving for a decade. Danny J. Basil is a lawyer, businessman (farmer/mill owner/etc) ,former Air Force running for the seat as a Democrat and Steve Riley is the Republican. Riley worked as a teacher, administrator, and coach at Barren County High School. In 2014, John Bell won by 7%
  • District 70 (Maysville): Michael Denham won this seat unopposed in 2012 and 2014. This year, there are both Democratic and Republican candidates: Johnny Sims, Jr (Fleming Co Magistrate and owner of a Dairy Queen) and John VanMeter, a young lawyer who has worked in DC as political staff for CO senator Wayne Allard (introducer of the Federal Marriage Amendment).
  • District 94 (EKY): Leslie Combs (relative of Bert Combs, former Governor) is retiring. She was unopposed in 2014 and in 2012. Angie Hatton is the Democrat running for the seat — she is the assistant Letcher County Attorney. Frank Justice, the former Pikeville mayor, is running as the Republican (Republicans are excited about him).

Republican Incumbents who might lose:

  • District 7 (Owensboro): Back in 2012, Democrat John Arnold won this seat by 5 votes, but resigned in the wake of sexual harassment accusations. In the special election, Republican Suzanne Miles won by about 2%. She was reelected in 2014 by about 7%. This time, Rep. Miles is facing Joy Gray, a teacher and alum of Emerge Kentucky, a group which works to elect female Democrats.
  • District 12 (WKY): Jim Gooch, Jr made national news several years ago by denying climate change on Good Morning America. He was accused in 2014 by inappropriate sexual behavior by the same people who accused Rep John Arnold of sexual harassment (Arnold later resigned). Gooch served as a Democrat since 1995, and has never faced a general election opponent. Gooch switched to the Republican party after the 2015 election. Jim Townsend, a judge in Webster County, is his opponent this year. This district has consistently voted for Republicans in federal elections, but has failed to even nominate a Republican for state house races.
  • District 38: (Louisville/Fairdale, Iroquois, Beechmont): Denny Butler served this district as a Democrat since 1989, but switched his registration to Republican after the 2015 election. This district is one of those most pro-union in the state. McKenzie Cantrell is running against him. She is a lawyer with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, which advocate for low wage workers. Along with Attica Scott, she’s the person I’m most excited about serving in the state government next time. This district voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
  • District 74 (North EKY): In 2014, Republican David Hale picked off incumbent Richard Henderson by 6%. This time he faces James Davis, a lawyer from Mount Sterling.

Open GOP seats:

  • District 50: (Nelson): Incumbent Republican David Floyd has served this Democratic leaning district since 2005 as the first Republican to ever serve Nelson County in the House. Running this time are Democrat James DeWeese and Republican personal injury lawyer Chad McCoy.
  • Democrats seems to have more seats that they control “in play” than the Republicans, but there appear to be two solid pickup opportunities for Democrats in the seats where there was party switching.
  • I think it seems like a nationalized election could indeed sweep out the incumbent Democrats, but that game has been played before, and has not yet been successful.


Catching up

Ramsey resigns from UL Foundation

  • His resignation letter said that he and his wife had been considering retirement
  • New members and a new chairman, Brucie Moore, appointed
  • Bob Hughes voluntarily relinquished chair position (big Ramsey supporter)
  • Chair of BoT Larry Benz has laid out a pathway to restored confidence (includes several demands, such as disclosing certain documents, relieving assistant secretary of her duties — they didn’t, etc.). We’ll see whether they follow through.

Journalism department asking Capilouto to drop lawsuit against the Kernel and apologize

  • 15 journalism faculty members have asked Capilouto to drop suit in a letter on Thursday.
  • What he told the BoT harms the reputation of the Kernel writer who has been covering the Harwood investigation and casts aspersions on the journalism faculty who teach the Kernel staff
  • Faculty also expressed concern about other open records denials, saying that it provokes concern of 1st Amendment issues of accountability and transparency
  • UK spokesman: The place for this disagreement is a court of law
  • Seems like the case is certainly continuing (Also, AG was allowed to intervene)

Bevin tried to exclude expert testimony in UL board lawsuit

  • Judge Shepherd indicated that he wanted to hear about accreditation issues
  • Bevin’s general counsel: Low risk of accreditation issues, plus the legislature could approve of the board in next session (we mentioned this process way back in the first episode)
  • Bevin’s counsel filed a motion to exclude expert witness testimony, saying it “was pointless.” It was their position that the only issue was whether Bevin had authority. Judge Shepherd denied that motion.
  • Attorney General had an expert from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and she’s also a former university president
  • Testified that Bevin’s overhaul seemed to violate the Association’s core requirements and comprehensive standards and sounded like undue political influence
  • Bevin did not have an expert. This hearing was supposed to happen last month, but they were actually given more time. Chose to try to disqualify their expert, rather than introduce contradictory testimony

Quick update on needle exchange data

  • Lexington exchange collected 20,199 used needles, and gave out 21,693 clean ones. That’s really close to a 1:1 ratio
  • Exchange is open on Friday afternoons. Also offer rapid HIV testing and they hope to add rapid hepatitis testing
  • They have also distributed 50 Narcan kits, which is the opiate overdose-reversing drug we mentioned last week. The exchange has partnered with UK to do this, as UK recently received a grant to purchase kits.