Three hundred Kentuckians filed to run for a seat in the Republican-dominated Kentucky General Assembly this year, with Democrats slightly outpacing their GOP counterparts in an election year that promises dozens of intense political battles.
Hoping to ride a wave of discontent, 155 Democrats filed for a seat in the 100-member House or 38-member Senate. The GOP, which holds a super majority in both legislative chambers, fielded 145 legislative candidates. The deadline to file was 4 p.m. Tuesday.
All 100 House seats and 19 of 38 Senate seats are up for election in 2018.
Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in the 2016 general election for the first time since 1920. After using their new-found power to quickly push through a package of anti-abortion and anti-union laws, House Republicans were beset by a sexual harassment scandal that prompted their top leader to step aside and helped derail an unpopular proposal to overhaul Kentucky’s financially ailing pension systems.
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Despite the recent setbacks, 84 percent of House Republicans filed to keep their seats in the House, compared with 69 percent of Democrats. The 19 vacant seats in the House leave Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne, R-Prospect, optimistic about his party’s chances headed into the election year.
“Certainly there’s some vacancies on both sides, particularly on the minority side, and I feel like we’re well positioned in those to let our record stand on its own,” Osborne said.
Democrats, though, hope to regain power by stoking discontent with President Donald Trump and harnessing outrage over Gov. Matt Bevin’s bid to overhaul the pension systems.
“In my 31 years of serving in the Kentucky House, I have never seen as much enthusiasm on the ground as I have this election cycle, and you can sense the tide that is building as we prepare for the wave that is coming in November,” said Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook.
The filing deadline also brought an influx of women candidates. Ninety-three women are seeking a seat in the General Assembly, including 70 challengers. That’s a huge increase from the 11 non-incumbent women who ran in 2016 and the three non-incumbent women who ran in 2014.
There are only 13 uncontested House races, with six Republicans running unchallenged and seven Democrats. The most notable of those candidates is former House Speaker Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, who resigned from his role as speaker following a secret sexual harassment settlement with a legislative staffer. He and three other GOP House members are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Legislative Ethics Commission.
Of the other lawmakers who signed the sexual harassment settlement, two are among the nine Republicans not seeking re-election in the House this fall: Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, and Rep. Brian Linder, R-Dry Ridge.
Rep. Michael Meredith, the fourth Republican named in the scandal, will face Brian Kent Strow of Bowling Green in the primary. The winner will face one of three Democrats vying for the seat.
In the House, two longtime Democratic representatives and one Republican waited until the last minute Tuesday to announce they would not seek re-election.
Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, announced she would not seek a sixth term. Instead, she stood behind Emily Ferguson, a staffer for the House Democratic Caucus, as Ferguson filed to run in the 72nd House District. Overly was the first woman to serve in Kentucky House Leadership and is a former chairwoman of the Kentucky Democratic Party.
“I am confident the great men and women in this district will elect a capable representative who will continue to build on the progress we have made so far in education, health care and jobs,” Overly said. “I look forward to serving the people of the commonwealth again in the future.”
Rep. Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland, who claimed Gov. Matt Bevin threatened to “take him down” in 2016 if he didn’t switch political parties, filed to run for the state Court of Appeals instead of the House of Representatives. Two Democrats and a Republican have filed to run in the 100th House District.
Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, withdrew her candidacy late Tuesday. Republicans found C. Ed Massey, an attorney in Boone County, to run in the 66th House District, which Wuchner has represented since 2005.
Two other open seats are in Fayette County: The 88th district, held by Republican Robert Benvenuti, includes the southeastern suburbs of Lexington; the 56th district, held by Democrat James Kay, includes a portion of western Fayette County, part of southeastern Franklin County and all of Woodford County.
In the 88th District, three Republicans will compete in the GOP primary: former state Rep. William Farmer Jr., who held the seat from 2003 until 2013; Ashley Boggs Bruggeman; and Jennifer McVay Martin, a Lexington attorney. Three Democrats are seeking the office: Josh Mers, chairman of Lexington Fairness; Cherlynn Stevenson, a Lexington event planner; and Gail Swanson, a member of the Fayette County Democratic Party Executive Committee.
The 56th District race has attracted just two candidates: McDonald’s franchisee Joe Graviss, a Democrat; and retired construction contractor Daniel Fister, a Republican.
There is only one open seat in the Senate, which currently belongs to Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro. Two Republicans are vying to replace Bowen: state Rep. Matt Castlen and Diane Burns Mackey, who lost to Jim Gooch in a race for the House of Representatives in 2014. The winner of that primary will take on Democrat Bob Glenn.
Despite the retirement of only one Republican, Democrats have filed to run in all but two Republican-held seats up for re-election in the Senate.
In Central Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District race, three well-known candidates — Lexington mayor Jim Gray, former fighter pilot Amy McGrath and state Sen. Reggie Thomas — all filed to seek the Democratic nomination well before the filing deadline. They’ll be joined in the race by Geoff Young, Theodore Green, and Daniel Kemph, all from Lexington.
U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, drew a late primary opponent Tuesday. Chuck Eddy, of Lexington, said on his Facebook page he is running against Barr in the GOP primary to take Congress back from “renegade Republicans.”
A little more than an hour before the filing deadline, Health and Family Services Secretary Vicki Yates Brown Glisson, a Republican, announced that she would resign immediately from her role in the Bevin Administration to run against U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth in Louisville’s 3rd Congressional District.
“I want Louisville to succeed,” Glisson said. “And I want Louisville to become a city that is strong and robust and a place where our citizens can succeed. So that’s why I’m running.”
Yarmuth is Kentucky’s only Democratic congressman.