FRANKFORT — Voter turnout is expected to be low for a special election Tuesday to fill a vacant state House seat that represents Casey and Marion counties and part of Pulaski County.
Residents of the 24th House District expressed surprise when they heard of a special election in the dead of winter, say the two candidates, Democrat Terry Mills of Lebanon and Republican Leo Johnson of Windsor in Casey County.
"People here are saying elections for the state legislature are in May and November, not in early February when the weather is bad," Johnson said. "Turnout Tuesday will be key for victory."
This special election is the result of events set in motion last year by Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear.
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After Beshear appointed Senate Majority Leader Dan Kelly, R-Springfield, to a circuit judgeship, state Rep. Jimmy Higdon of Lebanon successfully ran for Kelly's state Senate seat.
That left Higdon's House seat, which he had held since 2003, vacant and created the need for Tuesday's special election.
The winner will serve for the rest of this year — the remainder of Higdon's term.
Both Mills, 59, a retired Social Security Administration employee, and Johnson, 31, a self-employed building contractor, have filed to run in the May 18 primary election, when parties select their nominees for the Nov. 2 general election. The winner in November will serve a two-year term, beginning next January.
Johnson will have an opponent in the May GOP primary election — M.J. "Bill" Pickerill, a Lebanon auto dealer and five-term member of the Lebanon City Council. Pickerill's wife, Monica Pickerill, has been active in campaigns for Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Louisville.
Johnson and Mills say they are finding many people unaware of the special election as they go through the district encouraging voters to go to the polls.
"That's a problem with special elections," Johnson said. "I've run into a lot of people who say they didn't know anything about an election coming up."
The district has been in the GOP camp since 1994. Party registration is split nearly evenly — 12,903 Democrats and 12,441 Republicans. A total of 797 voters in the district are registered with other parties.
"A good thing about the special election," Higdon said, "is that it's a squeaky clean race. It's all been positive so far. I don't think the people would have it any other way."
Johnson and Mills are each making their first bids for public office, and both say the race has been void of negative campaigning.
The outcome will not change who controls the state House. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the chamber 64-35.
"I believe I'm the best candidate for the job to be a conservative voice in the legislature," Johnson said, "because of my experience in small business, my involvement in the community and organizational skills."
As a representative, Johnson said, he would focus on job creation, health care, education and family values.
Mills said his "sole motivation in running is to serve my community."
The Democratic candidate said his campaign has focused on community gathering places such as grocery stores, gas stations and community centers.
Both have relied on newspaper and radio ads and mailers. They appeared together at a recent forum held by the cable TV station in Lebanon.
The latest campaign finance reports filed with the state Registry of Election Finance show Johnson with $8,889 in receipts and Mills with $21,088.
Johnson's campaign contributions included $1,000 from Corbin banker Terry Forcht, $400 from state Sen. Vernie McGaha of Russell Springs and $300 from state Sen. Robert Stivers of Manchester.
Contributions to Mills' campaign include $10,000 from the state House Democratic Caucus Campaign Committee and $3,000 from the Marion County Democratic Executive Committee. Other contributors included former state Democratic chairman Jerry Lundergan of Lexington and state Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo of Lexington.