Challengers face long odds in eight Lexington state House races

Most incumbents running on records

jcheves@herald-leader.comOctober 7, 2010 

Eight Kentucky House members who represent parts of Fayette County have drawn opponents for the Nov. 2 election.

In most of the races, better-financed incumbents are touting state projects they helped fund, while their challengers pledge to slash state government.

The incumbents point to their years (sometimes decades) in office; the challengers say Frankfort is dysfunctional and it's time for new blood.

House District 39 covers Jessamine County and one adjacent precinct in Fayette County.

Rep. Bob Damron of Nicholasville, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, has represented the district since 1993. Damron, 56, is a banker with Ross, Sinclaire & Associates, which does bond work on many state construction projects.

This dovetails with Damron's seats on the Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee and the House Banking and Insurance Committee. But Damron says he avoids state projects at his job.

Damron is one of the legislature's most conservative Democrats, especially in support of gun owners' rights, and enjoys one of the best batting averages at getting bills signed into law.

He also travels at taxpayer expense more than most. In 2009, the Herald-Leader reported Damron charged the state $45,482 for 27 out-of-state trips over three years, the largest tab among his colleagues.

Damron's Republican challenger is Peter Kerr, 37, a Air Force veteran and assistant professor of communications at Asbury University in Wilmore.

Kerr said he's at least as conservative as Damron, if not more, and he would like to see Christianity play a greater role in politics.

He said he shares Damron's opposition to abortion but wonders why Damron has not managed to do much about it.

"My opponent is part of House Democratic leadership and one of the reasons nothing gets done," Kerr said.

House District 45 covers southwest Fayette County between the Jessamine County line and the Southland Drive area.

Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, has represented the district since 2001. Lee, 49, a lawyer, is a strong voice for religious and political conservatism even if many of his bills fail to gain traction. This year, Lee pushed unsuccessfully to exempt Kentucky-made guns and ammunition from federal firearms laws.

In 2008, as minority whip, Lee voted with the majority of House leadership to award a controversial 47 percent raise to chief legislative aide Bobby Sherman, increasing his annual pay to $195,000.

Lee's Democratic challenger is Matthew Vanderpool, 25, who is pursuing a secondary education degree at Bluegrass Community and Technical College. Vanderpool had raised only $290 in campaign funds as of the most recent reporting date, compared with Lee's $14,021.

If elected, Vanderpool would be the only openly gay state lawmaker. Vanderpool said he would try to lower Kentucky's high school dropout rates and — like Lee — defend the state's sovereignty from federal laws and regulations.

"The federal government has so much power, it needs to leave some power to the states to solve their own problems," Vanderpool said.

House District 56 covers eastern Franklin County, all of Woodford County and western Fayette County along Versailles Road past New Circle Road.

Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, has represented the district since 2007. Rollins, 63, a student loan marketing manager, is chairman of the House Education Committee.

This year, Rollins successfully sponsored a bill that makes it easier for community college students to transfer their credits to four-year colleges.

He's also one of the few lawmakers to sponsor measures sought by nursing home reform advocates, such as one to require minimum staffing standards.

Rollins' Republican challenger is Lyen Crews II of Versailles, vice president for business and financial affairs at Midway College. In his campaign materials, Crews says he will promote gun owners' rights and charter schools and oppose abortion and "wasteful spending."

He calls for the elimination of the state's individual and corporate income taxes.

House District 62 covers Scott County and northwest Fayette County, extending as far into Lexington as New Circle Road.

Rep. Charlie Hoffman, D-Georgetown, has represented the district since 1997. Hoffman, 54, a Kroger meat cutter, cites as his recent accomplishments a tax incentive to help the Toyota plant in Georgetown expand its hybrid Camry line and the creation of the Kentucky Equine Health and Welfare Board, to gather data on the state's signature animal and recommend improvements.

Hoffman's Republican challenger is Ryan Quarles, 26, of Georgetown, a recent University of Kentucky law school graduate. Quarles has worked for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and served as a student member of the Council on Postsecondary Education.

Lexington police arrested Quarles last weekend and charged him with reckless driving.

Police said Quarles was weaving through cars and showed signs of intoxication, although his blood-alcohol level of 0.067 was below the presumed-drunk level of 0.08. Quarles, who did not return a call for this story, is due in Fayette District Court for a hearing on Thursday.

House District 72 covers Bath, Nicholas and Bourbon counties and northern Fayette County, extending as far into Lexington as the intersection of Paris Pike and interstates 75 and 64.

Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, has represented the district since 2008. Overly, 44, a lawyer, formerly was a civil engineer at the state Transportation Cabinet. She is chairwoman of the House budget subcommittee that controls the state road fund. Of the $54,133 she had raised in campaign funds as of the most recent reporting date, thousands of dollars came from highway contractors whose projects she helps to fund.

Overly's Republican challenger is Stephen West of Millersburg, a lawyer and cattle farmer. West said his top priority is cutting state spending and taxes.

"It is immoral to require more taxes on working people who have lost their jobs or taken large pay cuts, while the government cuts back very little after many years of budget increases," West says in campaign materials.

House District 76 covers eastern Fayette County and includes older neighborhoods just east and north of downtown Lexington.

Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, a Democrat, has represented the district since 1991. Palumbo, 61, is a community volunteer and with her husband owns several apartment complexes.

She is chairwoman of the House Economic Development Committee and one of the legislature's more liberal members, opposing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks for Peabody Energy that passed the House overwhelmingly in 2007 and, the next year, supporting the right of state universities to offer domestic-partner benefits.

Palumbo's Republican challenger is Richard Marrs, 43, who owns a small advertising agency and ran unsuccessfully for the Urban County Council in 2008.

Marrs said the legislature must focus on creating more jobs in Kentucky. It should emulate Texas, which has no individual or corporate income tax and fewer regulations, luring businesses from other states, he said.

House District 77 covers north Lexington along Georgetown Road and the neighborhoods between downtown and Loudon Avenue.

Rep. Jesse Crenshaw, a Democrat, has represented the district since 1991. Crenshaw, 64, is a Lexington lawyer and chairman of the House budget subcommittee that oversees the judicial system's budget.

Crenshaw is an advocate of civil rights and annually pushes — without success — for a bill to restore voting rights to non-violent felons who have served their time.

In recent years, he has helped secure tens of millions of dollars for a plan to widen Leestown Road and for flood prevention in the Green Acres neighborhood.

Crenshaw's Republican challenger is David Darnell, 36, a manager at FedEx. Darnell said he wants to offer more tax breaks to attract employers to Kentucky and cut the state budget.

"It's a huge budget, and I think everything should be on the table other than emergency responders and teachers," Darnell said.

House District 79 covers south Lexington, extending along much of Tates Creek Road to Man o' War Boulevard.

Rep. Susan Westrom, a Democrat, has represented the district since 1999. Westrom, 58, a Lexington realtor, is co-chairwoman of the Capital Projects and Bond Oversight Committee.

This year, with mixed success, she pushed bills to allow free bourbon samplings in Kentucky, open the state's handling of some child abuse and neglect cases to public scrutiny and regulate companies that offer "foreclosure assistance."

The legislature must stand ready to protect consumers, Westrom said Wednesday.

"If there is any weakness in the law where people can be taken advantage of, the slime balls always crawl out of the woodwork," she said.

Westrom has no Republican challenger. Robert Thornsberry, 54, of Lexington a law librarian at Eastern Kentucky University, is running against her on the Constitution Party ticket. Thornsberry said his party wants to ensure that Kentucky obeys its constitution. He pledges to do what he can, as a state lawmaker, to repeal the health-care reform law Congress passed this year.

"We also need to cut spending," Thornsberry said. "I would probably cut just about anything."

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