By the time state Sen. Ed Worley, the Democratic minority leader, announced in January he would not seek re-election, one Democrat and two Republicans already had jumped in to fill his 34th District seat.
In Tuesday's primary election, they'll be joined on the ballot by two additional Democrats and another Republican, the last having held the Senate seat in the 1990s.
If there's one common denominator among the candidates, it's that, with that one exception, they are mostly inexperienced in politics. The race for the 34th District covers Madison, Rockcastle and Lincoln counties.
The Democrats are Mike Cope, a small-business owner; Landra Lewis, a mediation consultant; and Lee Murphy, the president of an Internet service provider.
The Republicans are Jared Carpenter, a banker; Dr. Kent Kessler, a surgeon; and Barry Metcalf, who held the seat before Worley.
The winners in each primary will face off in the November general election.
'No' to slot machines
The three Republicans said they oppose putting video lottery terminals or slot machines at racetracks, although Carpenter and Kessler said the issue should be put on the ballot for voters to decide.
Expanded gambling "is just a massive transfer of wealth," said Metcalf. "The poor will become even more destitute."
All three are lukewarm to the idea of charter schools, which are granted special permits, or charters, to operate outside usual state regulations in an attempt to help students who would otherwise attend low-performing schools.
Carpenter said he is "a pretty big advocate for our county school system" but he would be open to learning more about charter schools.
Metcalf was state senator for the 34th from 1994 through 1998, before running unsuccessfully against Jim Bunning for the Republican nomination for U.S. senator. He lost again to Bunning in 2004, and lost to Worley in the 2002 and 2006 general elections.
He has good rapport with Democrats and Republicans throughout the district, he said, as well as insight into how to get things done.
"I've never been an ideologue," he said.
Kentucky needs to downsize government, Metcalf said, and he suggests one way to do that is to "clamp down" on the number of state vehicles.
"I see so many state vehicles that are being used privately, that people are driving home at night on the public nickel," Metcalf said. "It's gotten ridiculous."
Carpenter describes himself as "a compromising person, but I am not going to compromise my values."
"I'm going to represent the broad base of people who are trying to pay their way," Carpenter said.
Carpenter was a registered Democrat until he filed for the Senate race. "When I graduated college I did register as a Democrat because that was how all my family had been registered. ...I wanted to run under the party that probably represented the values that I possess," he said.
Kessler, a surgeon, said he decided to run because he was "fed up" with government that does not address the main problem, and that is "we continue to spend way too much money that we don't have."
Kessler raised much more money than the two other candidates. He has total receipts of $108,292, according to records on file with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Carpenter raised $46,200, while Metcalf had $18,049. Most of Metcalf's money is a $15,849 loan to himself.
'Yes' to tax reform
In the Democratic primary, Cope, owner of Madison Glass and Construction, said he knows what it's like to survive in today's economy.
"I'm a small-business owner and we've struggled like everyone else has," Cope said.
Lewis emphasized her career in family and workplace mediation, which she said will help her to find common ground in a legislature where a partisan impasse this year led to the third failure since 2000 to adopt a state budget.
"I think it's shameful that we're going to spend $60,000-plus a day to go back into a special session for people to do a job that should already have been done," Lewis said.
Murphy served on the transition team to transfer state operations to the administration of Gov. Steve Beshear, and he has also been a special assistant to Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo. Murphy said Worley has made calls on his behalf to other Democrats in the district.
"It's been incredibly valuable to me to have Ed in my corner," Murphy said. Worley contributed $1,000 to Murphy's campaign, according to election records. (Another $1,000 contributor to Murphy is Mike McCready, guitarist for the rock band Pearl Jam.)
Murphy also leads in fundraising in the Democratic primary. He has raised a total of $18,315 compared with $10,776 for Lewis and $7,680 for Cope.
Murphy and Lewis said they favor allowing slots at racetracks. Cope was less enthusiastic, saying the issue should be put on the ballot for voters to decide.
"My only concern about putting slots at the racetracks is that it singles out one industry, which I support fully, but there are a lot of industries that are struggling at the moment," Cope said.
Murphy and Cope favor raising the dropout age from 16 to 18. A bill to raise the dropout age didn't pass the 2010 General Assembly. Lewis, who dropped out of school at 16 before getting her GED and later a degree from the University of Kentucky, has doubts about the idea.
"I don't think that mandating that kids stay in school until they're 18 is the answer because, as a dropout myself, I know that if kids don't want to be in the classroom, they're just going to make it disruptive for everybody else," Lewis said. She said the state should start a community-service program for those students.
All three Democrats support tax reform. "We've moved from a manufacturing economy into a service-based economy, and we're not taxing those services," Murphy said. "Now, I'm not pro-increasing taxes. ... I want to be able to look at the tax code and see if there is something we can cut as far as existing taxes, and balance that out with something that is more revenue positive."