All eyes will be on five central Kentucky counties Tuesday for a special election to fill a vacant state senate seat. Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh says the election results could have deep repercussions.
Recently, two prominent Republicans left the Kentucky Senate. They weren’t defeated in elections. They accepted appointments from Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear to other government positions. The governor appears to be using his appointment powers to wrest control of the Senate from Republicans, whom the governor sees as obstructionists to his effort to bring casino gambling to Kentucky.
The appointments created the need for two special Senate elections – the first won by a Democrat. The second, on Tuesday, pits Democrat Jodie Haydon against Republican Rep. Jimmy Higdon. Haydon, a former House member and Bardstown road contractor, says he’s in the race because he’s tired of the gridlock in Frankfort, which he blames on Senate President David Williams.
“I don’t think we’ve known any progress for ten years,” says Haydon. “As a matter of fact, I think a strong case could be made that we’ve actually regressed.”
Pictured, from left, Jimmy Higdon, Jodie Haydon and TV debate moderator Gary White.
Haydon calls President Williams, “a dictator,” an accusation Williams vehemently denies. But Rep. Higdon, a Lebanon grocer who’s been in the House since 2003, says it’s a non-issue because he’s his own man.
“I govern from the bottom up, not the top down,” says Higdon. “I will not listen to a party boss or be bullied in any way. I’m a very independent person, and I expect to go to Frankfort and represent my constituents.”
Haydon is raising more money – lots more money – especially from road contractors and horse interests. And he, like the governor, supports video slots at horse tracks.
“I think we’ve built enough schools in Indiana,” says Haydon. “We’ve built enough roads in Indiana, built enough water lines in Indiana. We need to keep that Kentucky money that goes to Indiana by way of the riverboat, in Kentucky.”
But Rep. Higdon says expanded gambling is something the people should decide.
“Eighty-percent of this district wants to vote on the issue,” says Higdon. “We did our polling early on. So my campaign pledge from day one is to let the people vote – not decide this issue behind closed doors with politicians and lobbyists. Let the people vote.”
It’s been an intense, one-month campaign, with each candidate airing ads touting their central Kentucky roots, their values and stands on the issues, but mostly avoiding personal attacks.
But it’s no holds barred in ads funded by the state Republican and Democratic parties. And a group calling itself Keep Our Jobs in Kentucky is running scathing ads against Higdon.
“You know, we really don’t know who those people are,” says Higdon. “We can assume, and I can say it’s gambling dollars or I can say anything because I really don’t know. I just know they’re spending a lot of money to make Jimmy Higdon look really bad.
“Is it working?” asks McVeigh.
“Well, you know, our poll numbers have remained good.”
It is a conservative district. Comprised of Taylor, Marion, Mercer, Washington and Nelson counties, Democrats outnumber Republicans more than two-to-one. But Republican Dan Kelly represented the senatorial district for 18 years, before accepting a judgeship from Gov. Beshear last month.
Kelly’s departure leaves the Senate with 19 Republicans, 17 Democrats and one independent. A Jodie Haydon victory would narrow the margin to 19 Republicans, 18 Democrats and one independent.
Is that significant? Well, consider this. Ten years ago, defections by two, then-Democrats, gave Republicans a 20-18 margin in the Senate and control of the body for the first time in almost a century.