LANCASTER - Republican state Rep. Lonnie Napier ended his flirtation with the governor's race and instead announced that he's running for state treasurer against at least two of his colleagues in the state House.
Napier, who has served in the legislature since 1985, kept his decision a secret even from some of his closest hometown supporters until yesterday morning, when he announced it to more than 200 people spilling out of a Garrard County courtroom.
"After much deliberation and prayerful consideration, I am pleased to announce I'm a candidate for ...," he said, pausing for dramatic effect. "I am a candidate for state treasurer."
That post, which oversees the state's unclaimed property fund and provides a signature for state checks, has attracted attention this year partly because it's an open seat. Incumbent Jonathan Miller is term-limited and seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.
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Once Napier files by Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline, he will face fellow Republican state representatives Brandon Smith of Hazard and Ken Upchurch of Monticello, as well as Melinda Wheeler, a former director of the administrative office of the courts.
Smith and Upchurch have said they were prepared to go head-to-head with their colleagues but expected the race wouldn't get nasty.
Napier said he spoke to both of them before announcing his decision. "They're both friends, and we'll be friends when it's over," he said.
The announcement also means that the House Republicans, the minority in the lower chamber, could boast as many as five candidates on the ballot this May.
In addition to the three vying for treasurer, Republican Floor Leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown is former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup's running mate in the governor's race against incumbent Ernie Fletcher and Paducah businessman Billy Harper.
And state Rep. Stan Lee of Lexington is considering running for attorney general.
"I think it shows we have a very dynamic caucus," said Rep. Steven Rudy, a Republican from West Paducah who made the four-hour trip to Garrard County to support Napier yesterday.
Still, it doesn't make it any easier having several colleagues competing against each other, said Rep. Marie Rader, a Jackson Republican.
"This is a new world for us," she said, adding that some will probably avoid picking sides. She, however, has family ties to Napier and will be supporting him.
The crowd greeted Napier's announcement with applause, but Napier conceded later that many of his friends and longtime supporters had hoped he was going to kick off a run for governor.
"It finally came down to knowing that we have three candidates in that race that can either put up money or raise a lot," Napier said.
In the Democratic primary for treasurer, two potential candidates have ties to the state House. David Jenkins of Shively, the brother of state Rep. Joni Jenkins, has said he plans to file Monday. And former state Rep. Mike Weaver of Elizabethtown, who retired last year to run for Congress, is considering running.
Democrats who already have filed include Patrick Dunmire of Frankfort, Todd Hollenbach of Louisville and Jack Wood of Louisville.