Pike voters replace state lawmaker, judge-executive and Kentucky's longest-serving sheriff

jbrammer@herald-leader.comMay 21, 2014 

W. Keith Hall, left, and Chris Harris

— A political earthquake hit Pike County on Tuesday, when voters turned out a controversial state lawmaker, the county-judge executive and the longest-serving sheriff in the state.

"All this is one of the biggest political changes in one day we've seen in a long time in Pike County," Pikeville attorney and columnist Larry Webster said.

In the 93rd House District, which includes eastern Pike County and Martin County, incumbent Keith Hall of Phelps was defeated by Pike County Magistrate Chris Harris in a 209-vote squeaker of a Democratic primary. No Republican filed for the office.

In the race for judge-executive, former judge-executive Bill Deskins topped Wayne T. Rutherford by 629 votes. Rutherford had been county judge-executive from 1970 to 1982 and 1992 to 1994. He was elected again in 2006. Deskins was county judge from 2003 to 2007.

And in the Pike County sheriff's race, Charles "Fuzzy" Keesee got beat by a ratio of more than 2 to 1 by Pike County Jailer Rodney Scott. The vote tally was 8,503 for Scott and 4,223 for Keesee, who has been sheriff for more than 40 years, although not consecutively, since first taking office in 1962.

Scott said his campaign theme was "it's time for a change."

Here's a closer look at each of the three Pike County races that rocked the political landscape in the state's largest county in land area, and where Democrats outnumber Republicans 34,464 to 11,178.

State House

Hall, who has been dogged by controversy since entering the state House in 2001, told the Appalachian News-Express in Pikeville on Tuesday night that he congratulated Harris on the win.

"It was a tough race," Hall told the newspaper. "It was bloody. It was Politics 101. It was brutal, brutal. But the people have spoken and I've always been one that believes in 'power to the people,' and I've run a good race, I've fought a good fight, and I have no regrets."

Hall did not return calls from the Herald-Leader on Tuesday night and Wednesday seeking comment.

Kim Geveden, who managed Harris' campaign, said Wednesday that Hall has not yet conceded to Harris and might ask the secretary of state's office for a recanvass.

Any request for a recanvass must be made by 4 p.m. Tuesday, secretary of state spokeswoman Lynn Zellen said. A request with the circuit court for a recount must be made within 10 days after the election, she said.

A recanvass involves retabulating the vote totals from each voting machine. It is conducted with no expense to the candidate. A recount involves asking the circuit court to order each ballot to be recounted. The candidate must pay for a recount.

Geveden said Harris defeated Hall because "the people of Pike and Martin counties had had enough of Mr. Hall."

"They were given a credible, honest candidate to take the district in a different direction," he said. "They had had enough of the embarrassment Mr. Hall had caused."

In 2011, the state Legislative Ethics Commission fined Hall $2,000 after one of his companies won $171,000 in no-bid sewer line projects that he voted to include in the state budget.

In recent months, federal and state investigators have examined Hall's ties to a former coal mine inspector to whom Hall — a coal mine operator — once claimed he gave an unspecified sum of money.

Hall has denied any unethical behavior.

Judge-executive

Geveden also managed Deskins' campaign for judge-executive, in which Deskins pledged to serve only one term. He's 84 and Rutherford is 76.

"Bill decided to run again because he couldn't sit quietly and watch the county's finances get into a bigger mess," Geveden said.

Age was not a factor in the race, Geveden said, "but it did help that Bill said he would only go one term."

Neither Rutherford nor Deskins returned calls Wednesday seeking comment.

No Republican filed to run for the office.

Sheriff

Keesee, 86, said his loss to Scott by more than 4,000 votes was "a big disappointment."

"I hope money didn't change hands in the race, but I'm looking into that," Keesee said.

Scott responded by calling Keesee's comment "an unfortunate statement."

"I think the people just wanted a new sheriff," he said.

Keesee said his age might have hurt him. He also said he was glad that Hall lost his state House race.

"Keith Hall and Rodney Scott have a business together, a store, in Lawrence County, Va. They were running together," Keesee said.

Scott said he did not align himself with any other candidate.

Both Keesee and Scott will serve in their current offices for the rest of 2014. No Republican filed to run for sheriff.

Jerry "Freddie" Lewis of Belfry won the Democratic nomination Tuesday for Pike County jailer to replace Scott next year.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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