Kentucky Republicans have two choices in their May 17 primary for the state's elected auditor of public accounts, but both come with baggage.
State Rep. Addia Wuchner of Florence last year settled a lawsuit against her insurance company in which she claimed to be "permanently and totally disabled" and unable to work more than 15 hours a week because of a car crash that seriously injured her knees, shoulders and back. Wuchner now says she's capable of working full-time as auditor.
Lexington developer John T. Kemper III, whose campaign slogan is "A Debt-Free Kentucky," might lose his home soon in a foreclosure auction related to his personal bankruptcy. Kemper used $124 from his campaign fund to pay his vehicle tax in February.
The winning Republican will face Democrat Adam Edelen, former chief of staff to Gov. Steve Beshear, in November. Edelen has no primary opponent.
The current auditor, Crit Luallen, a Democrat, is finishing her second term, the limit allowed by law. Voters have elected state auditors since 1850 to monitor how public money is spent and how public agencies function. Some of Luallen's high-profile audits have led to criminal convictions.
In an interview Friday, Wuchner, 55, said she offers a unique combination of budgeting experience from the private and public sectors. Wuchner is a registered nurse and retired hospital administrator who has served in the Kentucky House since 2005, where she is a vice chairwoman of the Health and Welfare Committee.
Wuchner is backed by many of her fellow Republican state legislators and former U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., who praised her "uncompromised integrity" in his endorsement.
By acting as a watchdog, the auditor can help make government smaller and more efficient in addition to keeping it honest, Wuchner said.
"We have to begin to look surgically at our budgeting practices. The auditor has the power to do that," she said. "If we're going to move Kentucky forward, we're going to have to streamline and employ best practices."
In June 2009, Wuchner sued Unum Life Insurance Co. in U.S. District Court in Covington and declared herself medically unfit to work a full-time job.
Unum had paid Wuchner long-term disability benefits from 1997 to 2006 as a result of injuries she sustained in a 1996 car crash, which forced her to leave her hospital job, according to the lawsuit. Wuchner said Unum erroneously ended her benefits after deciding she could work, based in part on having a private investigator track her activities for eight days. She asked for her disability payments to be reinstated immediately.
To support her case, Wuchner said her physician, Dr. James Bilbo, an orthopedic surgeon, in 2004 declared her to be "permanently and totally disabled."
"Dr. Bilbo provided that Ms. Wuchner could work 10 to 15 hours per week and ... stated that Ms. Wuchner was prohibited from performing computer or desk work for more than one hour," according to the suit.
In response, Unum defended its decision as proper. It acknowledged that it had hired an investigator to follow Wuchner on the campaign trail in 2004 as she ran for the state House.
The case was assigned to Judge David Bunning — son of the former U.S. senator now backing Wuchner for auditor — and it ended in March 2010 with a private settlement.
Wuchner received an unspecified sum last year from the insurance company, according to her annual legislative ethics disclosure, but she declined Friday to discuss the settlement. Wuchner said she no longer receives disability payments and is ready to work full-time as auditor.
"If I didn't think I could serve this office, I wouldn't run for it. I don't think my health is pertinent," she said, adding that she also is a breast cancer survivor.
"I have learned over the years to live with an incredible amount of pain," she said. "That's what I've done while serving in the General Assembly. Over the years, I've learned to shut my office door and — I do a lot of reading, so I've learned to position myself differently so that I'm not sitting at a desk for any long periods of time."
John Kemper III
Kemper, 47, ran last year in the Republican primary for Central Kentucky's seat in the U.S. House. He placed fourth out of six candidates.
Kemper did not return calls Friday seeking comment.
In his campaign appearances, Kemper sounds partisan themes. Although it has little to do with the auditor's duties, Kemper says he opposes abortion and wants lower taxes, a stronger military and national borders better secured against illegal immigration.
Kemper says the auditor should be a Republican because Democrats dominate state government, and watchdogs must be independent of the power structure.
"For the last 35 years, Kentuckians have allowed the Democratic Party to chart the economic course of this great commonwealth," Kemper wrote on his campaign Web site. "The Democrats have overseen the unnecessary, out-of-control growth of state government (and) increased taxation with little return on our investment."
Kemper filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Lexington two years ago, listing $4.1 million in assets and $4.9 million in debts. In an interview during his congressional race, Kemper said the recession and bad land deals sank his home-building business and all of the personal assets he had tied to it. He said he's following a court-supervised, five-year repayment plan.
However, he might be unable to save his home on Ravens Crest Lane in southern Fayette County. It's scheduled for a commissioner's sale at the courthouse later this month as part of a $1.4 million legal claim against Kemper by Citimortgage, according to public records. The property, a brick house on a large, rural lot, is appraised at $850,000.
In campaign donations, Wuchner outpaced Kemper as of April 15, the most recent reporting deadline. She raised $35,049 to his $19,327, and $4,575 of his funds are loans from himself. Among Kemper's listed campaign expenses is his 2011 vehicle tax, which could raise questions when the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance audits his books, as it routinely does for statewide races.
"From my perspective, it would be questionable," said Emily Dennis, the registry's general counsel. "As a general rule, the burden is on the candidate to prove that it's a justifiable expense for the campaign."
Whoever wins the Republican primary will face Edelen, a well-connected Democrat who has raised more than $430,000.