Operation Turnout hosting forum for special election state Senate candidates

November 20, 2013 


    What: Special election candidates forum 2013, sponsored by Operation Turnout.

    When: 3:30 p.m. Dec. 1.

    Where: Greater Liberty Baptist Church, 330 Chestnut St.

    Information: Email operation.turnout.forum@gmail.com.

A number of people have asked my opinion of the three candidates vying for the state Senate seat vacated by Kathy Stein when she was appointed a Fayette Circuit Court judge recently.

I don't have a dog in that fight, I say. I don't live in the 13th Senate District, so I can't vote in the special election on Dec. 10.

That usually satisfies those who don't really know me, and they walk away.

Those who do know me, however, say, "That's not what I asked."

Truthfully, I don't know what to think.

I can't remember a time when voters in Lexington have had the opportunity to choose between a black Democrat, Reginald Thomas, a black Republican, Michael Johnson, or a white Independent, Richard Moloney, who are all seeking the same seat.

In a couple of local council districts voters may have had that choice, but council seats are nonpartisan. No one runs under the banner of a certain party.

I know the number of black Republicans statewide and nationally is growing, but usually black candidates are Democrats. Now we get to see the results of freedom to choose played out on a local stage.

Operation Turnout, a nonpartisan group that has been hosting candidate forums since 2010, has invited all three candidates to address the public on Dec. 1 at Greater Liberty Baptist Church, 330 Chestnut Street. It will give all of us an opportunity to hear directly from the candidates, learn more about each platform, and determine how to assist in the election, said Clark Williams, chairman of the forum and a founding member of Operation Turnout.

There are a couple of other twists to this election that are worth noting.

First, this race could be historic not only for Lexington, but also for the state.

"In Kentucky's long history," the group said in a press release, "there has never been an African-American elected to the state Senate from anywhere other than the 33rd District in Louisville."

In 1967, Georgia Davis Powers was the first black and the first black woman to be elected state senator in Kentucky. After serving 21 years, she was replaced by Gerald Neal, who also is black. Both are from the 33rd District in Louisville.

Could Lexington make history with the election of either a black Democrat or a black Republican?

The other twist is that all three candidates used to be registered Democrats until recently when Johnson and Moloney switched their affiliations.

Why did that happen?

Johnson, a local minister who has worked with Republicans before, could have simply overlooked changing his party affiliation, although it may have hampered his voting in primaries. You sort of have to be Republican to be the Republican nominee for state Senate, however.

I can understand that change.

But I was surprised to learn Moloney, who had been a staunch Democratic supporter, had changed his affiliation. Was that a political move just to win that seat by splitting Democratic or black votes? If not, why didn't he run against Stein when she held the seat?

Then again, he could have just decided to try to win a seat held by his grandfather and uncle in years passed.

Those twists helped to convince Operation Turnout to host a forum. There were too many people asking questions, Williams said, and too few avenues for those people to get answers.

They only recently decided a forum was needed. So far, Johnson and Thomas have accepted the invitation to attend. The group is still waiting to hear from Moloney.

There are three points Williams said we all need to take away from this exercise.

First, we all need to learn about the race and the candidates. Too many people are still uncertain if they are in the 13th District because redistricting has changed the boundaries. He said the group is trying to distribute maps of the district to area churches that include precincts.

"To my knowledge there is no other forum being held on this race," he said.

Second, black voters need to understand that candidates need support not only financially, but also through volunteers. If we want representatives who will vote according to our wishes, we need to work in both capacities to get them elected. Information will be available at the forum about joining a campaign.

And third, he said, district residents need to vote.

Williams said with so few people expected to cast a ballot in this special election, a very small group will determine who takes Stein's former seat in Frankfort.

"We want everyone to come out to hear where the candidates stand," he said. "How they vote affects us all."


What: Special election candidates forum 2013, sponsored by Operation Turnout.

When: 3:30 p.m. Dec. 1.

Where: Greater Liberty Baptist Church, 330 Chestnut St.

Information: Email operation.turnout.forum@gmail.com.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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