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Election preview: Kentucky to elect top state officers

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November 7, 2011

November 8, 2011 Election Preview

Jump to the race for:
*Lieutenant Governor
*Attorney General
*Secretary of State
*Commissioner of Agriculture

By Greg Janetka and Lauren Rodgers

Related election news: 400 state legislative seats up for a voteState and local ballot measures

Kentucky boasts the only incumbent to have lost in the primary this year: Elaine Walker fell to Alison Lundergan Grimes in the Democratic primary race for Secretary of State. Grimes faces Republican Bill Johnson in the general election, and the two are in one of the closer races of the season. But Grimes, like many of the Democrats in down ballot races, will likely be helped on Tuesday by the huge popularity of the current Democratic Governor Steve Beshear, who is running for re-election and leading both of his opponents, Republican David Williams and independent Gatewood Galbraith, by a 30+ point margin.

There are seven executive offices up for election in Kentucky: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor and commissioner of agriculture.

  • Incumbents are seeking to retain their seats in only 3 of the 7 races
- Two incumbents are prevented, by term limits, from seeking another term
  • Only 1 race has at least one third-party or independent candidate.

Polling hours on Election Day are from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, Eastern time.
Governor and Lieutenant Governor

In Kentucky, the top two executive offices are elected on a single ticket. Incumbent governor Steve Beshear, a Democrat, has a new running mate: former Louisville mayor Jerry Abramson. Facing Beshear will be the Republican team of state Senate President David Williams and outgoing Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer. An independent candidate, trial attorney Gatewood Galbraith, and his running mate, Dea Riley, will also be on the ballot.

Economic issues have dominated the debates in both offices. In the most recent gubernatorial debate, all three of the candidates identified job creation as a top priority for the next four years. Beshear highlighted the success of a bipartisan bill passed in 2009 that revised of Kentucky's economic incentive programs. According to Beshear, over 350 companies have been approved for programs that give Kentucky the tools it needs to attract businesses from out of state and works with existing Kentucky to help them grow and expand and create new jobs. These companies, he says, will generate "about 3.4 billion dollars in new investments... create about 19,700 jobs, and retain between 8,100 and 8,200 jobs."[1] Williams argued the incentive programs to which Beshear referred were designed to overcome obstacles that need to be removed: namely, the tax state's current tax structure and unemployment insurance. Galbraith came out strongly against using tax incentives to bring in large companies to bring in "$8 an hour jobs," arguing that tax incentives should be used for higher paying jobs that allow people to live above the poverty level. Commenting on the other two candidates, Galbraith also noted "they're never going to fix the tax code, folks, as long as this kind of partisanship stands in the way."[1]

In the lieutenant gubernatorial debates, Farmer and Riley accused the Beshear administration of not doing enough to bring new jobs to the state, and Farmer echoed his running mate's desire to change the tax code to eliminate personal and corporate income taxes.[2]

Early in the season, it looked as though the election would be closer, but at this point Beshear and Abramson hold a commanding, 30+ point lead over both pairs of challengers. The Republican ticket has been tripped up on several occasions. Most notably, Farmer, with vote totals in 2003 and 2007 that earned him a reputation as Kentucky's most popular Republican, was criticized for wasteful spending during his tenure as agriculture commissioner.

Attorney General

Incumbent Democrat Jack Conway faces second term Republican Hopkins County Attorney Todd P'Pool. The two candidates have very different approaches to the office: Conway has focused, in his first term, on issues specific to Kentucky. He touts his record since taking office, noting his office is responsible for "removing 300,000 porn images from the Internet, increasing Medicaid fraud collections by more than 600 percent and having a role in the state's largest drug bust."[3] P'Pool, on the other hand, is much more interested in the role Kentucky plays in a more national context. P'Pool has openly criticized Conway for his decision to not have Kentucky join in the challenge to President Obama's health care reform. An outspoken advocate for limiting the role of the federal government in state affairs, P'Pool called the current political climate "the era of the attorney general," explaining "if the people of Kentucky want a firewall against federalism, it has to happen in the office of the attorney general. And Jack Conway is on the sideline."[3]

Secretary of State

Alison Lundergan Grimes defeated incumbent Elaine Walker in the Democratic primary election. She faces Republican Todd County businessman and teacher Bill Johnson. Two of the most important roles of the Kentucky Secretary of State are to oversee business filings and serve as the state's chief election official. As in virtually every election across the country, job creation has played a prominent role in this race. It's also one of only a handful of issues on which the two candidate agree. Both Grimes and Johnson want to make it easier for Kentucky residents to start a business - an obvious area for agreement, given the state general assembly's authorization of a "business portal" that aims to streamline the process of starting a business.

That is about where the similarities end, though. When it comes to requiring voters to show a photo ID, Johnson views the move as "the most common sense way to verify somebody is who they say they are."[4] Grimes feels the current law is sufficient, noting there is little evidence of voter impersonation, and noted Johnson's stance will decrease voter participation. Grimes has also maintained the tradition of previous secretaries and the state board of elections in allowing homeless voters to register without an address. She explained everybody, regardless of their economic circumstances, "has to have their opportunity to have their voice heard on Election Day."[4] Johnson, on the other hand, argues all people should be required to produce an address in order to register to vote. The two also differ on granting the right to vote to felons who have completed their sentences: Grimes is in support; Johnson is opposed.[4]


Democratic incumbent Todd Hollenbach will face Republican Lexington City Councilwoman K.C. Crosbie and Libertarian Ken Moellman. The benefit Hollenbach's incumbency, combined with the expectation that Moellman will draw conservative votes away from Crosbie, put him in a good position to retain his seat.[5]

Earlier in the campaign Republican activists attempted to have Moellman removed from the ballot, claiming nearly half of his nominating signatures were flawed or fictitious.[6] The suit was dropped on September 12.[7]

Moellman is campaigning on a platform to eliminate the office of Treasurer. Hollenbach has touted his successes, including returning $48 million in unclaimed property during his first term. Crosbie has criticized Hollenback for occasionally taking too long to return unclaimed property. She stated that her background as a fiscal conservative places her in a better position to act as Treasurer.[8]


With Democratic incumbent Crit Luallen ineligible to run for re-election due to term limits, the contest for the open seat has come down to Democratic Lexington management consultant Adam Edelen and Republican Lexington developer John T. Kemper III. Edelen did not face a primary challenge while Kemper defeated Addia Kathryn Wuchner to secure the Republican nod.

The Edelen campaign has characterized Kemper as unfit to serve as Auditor, citing Kemper's failure to pay property taxes as well as filing for bankruptcy twice.[5] Meanwhile, Kemper has attempted to paint Edelen, who is a former Chief-of-Staff to Gov. Steve Beshear, as unable to get elected without the Governor's help.

Commissioner of Agriculture

Democrat Robert "Bob" Farmer, a Lexington marketing professional, will face Republican state Rep. James R. Comer for the open position of Agriculture Commissioner. Current Commissioner Richie Farmer (R) could not run for re-election due to term limits and is seeking the post of Lieutenant Governor instead.

Robert Farmer defeated four opponents in the primary election to gain his party's nomination, while Comer defeated Rob Rothenburger. Comer has campaigned as being more qualified for the job, citing his background as a farmer. Comer's campaign also highlighted a controversial standup comedy routine performed by Farmer where he made fun of rural citizens of eastern Kentucky. While Farmer has since apologized for the comments, the issue has remained at the forefront of the campaign. Farmer failed to show up at a debate on October 26,[9] the following day it was reported that Comer was spending over $500,000 to run TV ads each day until the election.[10]

See also


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