RICHMOND — The only certainty in the 81st District race for the state House is that a woman will succeed Harry Moberly, the Democrat who decided not to run for re-election after representing much of Madison County for 31 years.
Tiffany Nash, on leave as the chief financial officer for an executive recruitment firm, is the Republican, while Rita Smart, co-owner of a Richmond bed-and-breakfast, is the Democrat. The general election is Nov. 2.
Both are relative political newcomers, although Smart has been on the Richmond City Commission for two years.
The race so far has been congenial and free of mud-slinging. In fact, Nash and Smart appeared together at an August event in Richmond to mark the 90th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. Of the 100 current members of the state House, 15 are women.
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Nash and Smart tout experience in making government and other organizations more efficient. Smart, who is mayor pro tem on the Richmond City Commission, brought that city's recent budget problems to light, while Nash pointed toward her former experience as an internal auditor for Ashland Inc.
The district, which slices down the middle of Madison County and includes Richmond and portions of Berea, is heavy on Democrats, which outnumber Republicans 15,521 to 9,622. There are another 2,598 independents.
The race is one of five House elections in the state that does not feature an incumbent. Democrats maintain a solid grip on the chamber, outnumbering Republicans 65 to 35.
Neither candidate appeared enamored with slot machines at horse tracks as a way to increase revenue or to boost the flagging Thoroughbred industry. But Smart said she is "not closed to looking at" slots as an option.
"I would vote for something that would keep our identity in Kentucky," Smart said. Otherwise, "I'm afraid we will lose our horse identity, that aspect of our culture here."
Nash said Kentucky voters should have an opportunity to decide whether they want slots at tracks.
"Personally, I think that's something that everybody needs to decide for themselves," Nash said. "... I think the people of Kentucky need to make that decision, and it doesn't need to be made by politicians that are influenced by lobbyists one way or another."
And if there were no statewide referendum on slots, how would Nash vote on a bill that allowed slots without changing the Kentucky Constitution?
"I would listen to my constituents, what the voters of Madison County want," Nash said.
Both candidates have doubts about increasing the dropout age from 16 to 18. A bill to raise the dropout age didn't pass the 2010 General Assembly despite the backing of Gov. Steve Beshear.
"Personally, I would hate to be a teacher in a classroom with a 17-year-old or 18-year-old that didn't want to be there," Smart said. "I lean more toward having the curriculum to keep them there rather than mandating."
Nash said she was "concerned about just passing a law and not putting something in place to help that goal be accomplished and not also helping the teachers and the families that are tuned out by the current situation."
Both candidates said Kentucky needs tax reform, but did not offer any specific ideas toward that goal.
"We probably do need to look at our tax base and the way we do our tax," Smart said. "Efficiency is probably as important as tax reform, and making sure that the money we get is spent efficiently."
Nash said state Rep. Bill Farmer, R-Lexington, has put forth some "good proposals." Earlier this year, Farmer suggested broadening the sales tax to cover services and closing loopholes so the 6 percent tax rate could be lowered, and individual and corporate income taxes could be eliminated.
"I think those are some good ideas that need to be explored," Nash said.
Moberly, who spent 14 years as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, announced his retirement in January, saying he wants to concentrate on his family and high-profile job at Eastern Kentucky University.
Smart said Moberly asked her to run for the state House and has spoken on her behalf at several fund-raisers.
Of the two candidates seeking to replace Moberly, Smart was the bigger fund-raiser in the May primary.
Smart, who had opposition, raised $42,453, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. Nash, who had no opposition in the primary, raised $12,390. Preliminary figures for the November election have not been filed.