She calls him a double-dipper. He calls her a rubber stamp.
Retired Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins Sr. is the Democratic challenger to Republican Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, who has represented the 12th Senate District since 1999 even though Democrats outnumber Republicans in it 40,260 to 32,242.
Behind the sparring in the race for the district, which includes the southern half of Fayette County, is a full-blown battle for custody of the state Senate.
Democrats are trying to take control of the Senate from Republicans, who have dominated since 2000. Republicans now outnumber Democrats in the Senate 20-17, with one independent member who caucuses with the GOP.
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If Blevins wins the race it could help oust Republican David Williams of Burkesville — a leading opponent of allowing slots at racetracks — from his post as Senate president, said former Kentucky Gov. Julian Carroll, now a Democratic state senator from Frankfort.
Carroll said Kerr is a "puppet of the president of the Senate" who cast a vote against expanded gambling at William's behest although her district includes Keeneland.
The only independent poll of the race, done by cn|2 Politics in early October, showed Blevins with a slim 4.6 percentage point lead over Kerr. That result was well within the poll's margin of error.
Both candidates had nearly $24,000 on hand to spend in the race as of Oct. 1, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Kerr had raised $46,885 and had $23,621 left. Blevins had raised $104,120 and had $23, 952 left.
Kerr, 56, says she is a conservative who represents family values, is "100% percent pro-life" and a proponent of the right to keep and bear arms. She counts among her accomplishments a law that afforded breast cancer treatment to impoverished women and a law that took junk food out of vending machines and made lunches healthier at Kentucky schools.
"She's a very conservative, pro-family, working mother and really stands up for families in the Kentucky state senate," said State Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.
Blevins, 73, says he had a progressive 27-year stint as Fayette County clerk and before that helped create the new merged government as one of the first Urban County Council members. He says he would be an independent voice in the Senate and has promised to push for elimination of state pensions for lawmakers.
The candidates take opposite stances on a number of topics, but none divides them more clearly than expanded gambling.
The House passed a bill last summer to allow the video lottery terminals, which are much like slot machines, but it died in the Senate budget committee, where Kerr was one of 10 senators who voted against the bill.
Horse industry representatives have long lobbied for slots, saying they would help revive the economically troubled industry.
Kerr said her district is filled with families with young children and includes the large Southland Christian Church. "I'm just not sure that that would have been for the betterment of my district as a whole ..." she said.
Still, Kerr said she has been a consistent advocate for the horse industry. "Everything that they've ever wanted and have come to me to help them with I have. On this one issue, I felt that I also had to look at the social ills ..." she said.
Instead of approving slots under Kentucky's lottery laws, Kerr said she favors a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to decide the issue.
The industry has rejected that idea, saying the delay of a statewide vote would mean it could be 2015 before it feels the positive effects of slots revenue.
Blevins, who said thousands of Kentuckians could lose their jobs in the horse industry in coming years, dismissed the argument that slots would bring more social problems.
"We've had gambling at the racetrack in Kentucky since the 1800s and the sky still hasn't fallen," he said.
The candidates are attacking each other on several fronts.
Blevins said the slots issue is not the only one where Kerr did Williams' bidding.
Out of 2,960 votes, Blevins said, "she has differed with David Williams 30 times. If that's not a rubber stamp, I'll eat my hat."
But Kerr said she researches her votes and talks to a wide variety of people before reaching a conclusion.
"David Williams is not a factor for me as far as how I vote," she said. "I have never felt any pressure from David Williams to vote a certain way. ... I vote my conscience."
Kerr, meanwhile, contends that Blevins orchestrated the appointment of his son, Don Blevins Jr., to succeed him in 2008 when he retired as Fayette County Clerk.
"In a back room deal, he shook hands with political bosses," contends an ad paid for by the Republican Party of Kentucky.
Blevins Jr. was appointed to the post by Fayette County Judge Executive Sandra Varellas. She said in an interview that she did not have any contact with Don Blevins Sr. or any Democrat about the appointment of Blevins Jr.
"It was my sole decision," Varellas said.
Blevins Sr. said he supported his son's decision to apply for the post, but he said he did not contact Varellas or anyone else to lobby for Blevins Jr.
"I in no way interfered," Blevins Sr. said.
Another heated issue in the race is taxpayer-funded pensions.
Kerr says that Blevins wants to come to the state Senate to be "a double-dipper" — a phrase used to describe those who return to government work while also drawing a government pension.
Blevins, who already receives a state pension because he retired, says he will turn down a second pension if he's elected and serves the five years necessary to receive a pension for being a part-time lawmaker.
Blevins also says he will push to eliminate pensions for lawmakers. Kerr opposes that move, saying she considers it a full-time job because legislative committees she serves on meet throughout the year.
In 2005, the General Assembly changed state law to allow lawmakers who go on to hold other state jobs to use their higher, non-legislative salaries when calculating their legislative pension benefits. In ads, Blevins has noted that Kerr voted for the change.
But Kerr said she is not in favor of the enhanced benefit and voted to repeal the law earlier this year after realizing its unintended consequence. Senate Bill 51, which would have repealed the enhancement, passed the Senate 21-17 in a party-line vote. It later died in the Democratic-led House State Government Committee.
Kerr has said she thought it was the "epitome of hypocrisy" for Blevins to take up the issue of lawmaker pensions, given that he retired in 2008 because a lucrative temporary change in the state pension system expired at the end of that year.
After graduating from the University of Kentucky with a degree in commerce, Blevins said he worked as a state income tax auditor, an accountant and in an administrative position at the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital. Later, he was a real estate and insurance agent.
Blevins said when Lexington and Fayette County merged in 1973, he saw an opportunity to get involved. Blevins was elected to the first merged government Council, serving two terms as 10th District Council representative and one term as councilman at large.
Blevin's brother Barkley and his son Don Jr. also held the 10th District seat.
In his 27 years as county clerk, Blevins said he is most proud of his efforts to implement modern technologies, hiring people based on their knowledge instead of cronyism and improving pay to reduce employee turnover. He served on national and state election-reform panels.
Kerr graduated from Western Kentucky University with degrees in elementary education and vocal music. She also got a master's degree in higher education from WKU.
Over the years, she has worked as an admissions officer at Northern Kentucky University, and at the Baptist Student Union at NKU and the University of Kentucky. She also has worked in the human resources department of R.J. Corman, a Nicholasville based railroad corporation.
Kerr is now the director of academic advising at Midway College.
Kerr grew up in Logan County, where her father was a Republican party official but never held elected office. Larry Forgy, her elder brother by 15 years, ran for governor on the Republican ticket in 1991 and 1995 and was a high profile politician for much of the decade.
She now chairs the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee and is chair of the Senate Sub-Committee on Post-Secondary Education. She said she helped to pass tax credits for small businesses and other important economic development projects across Kentucky, such as the Breeders' Cup and the Kentucky Speedway.
"I've been able to work across party lines and across the chamber lines," Kerr said. "That is so important to be able to help your district."