LOUISVILLE — Former Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott of Pikeville kicked off his Republican campaign for governor Tuesday by announcing that former Menifee County Sheriff Rodney Coffey will be his running mate.
Scott, who stepped down from the state's highest court on Jan. 2, also outlined his positions on several issues, including a call to expand gambling to help the state's financially strapped public pension systems.
Scott and Coffey are the third Republican slate to enter the race for Kentucky's highest elected offices in the May 19 primary election.
During a news conference outside the Jefferson County Courthouse, Scott said it doesn't matter that Coffey also is from Eastern Kentucky because Coffey is known statewide as a former president of the Kentucky Sheriff's Association.
"He has a hand in all 120 counties," Scott said of his running mate, who has spent 20 years in law enforcement. He was Menifee County's sheriff for 16 years.
Coffey, 44, acknowledged that he and Scott are not "a typical ticket" but said they "love the Lord and the state of Kentucky."
Scott and Coffey filed their candidacy papers later in the day at the secretary of state's office in Frankfort.
Scott, 67, said most people in Eastern Kentucky do not favor gambling, but he maintained that a constitutional amendment is needed for expanded gambling to help pay down the state's unfunded pension liabilities. They total about $31 billion.
Democratic governors since the 1990s, particularly Gov. Steve Beshear, have tried to expand gambling in Kentucky but have not been able to get the measure through the state legislature.
Scott is proposing five casino licenses in the state — four at horse tracks and one for an unspecified site. About $125 million could be made in the first year from license fees and up to $500 million a year from the gambling, he said.
Much of that could address the state's pension problem, and 5 percent of the proceeds could help "the isolated elderly" with such needs as heating, he said.
Jim Carroll, a spokesman for the advocacy group Kentucky Government Retirees, said the group favors additional funding for the state's pension program but expressed doubt that expanded gambling would be "substantial enough for the final solution."
Scott also proposed lowering the state's corporate tax rate to 5 percent — dropping it 0.25 percent a year over the next four years — to stimulate more jobs.
In fiscal 2013, Kentucky's corporate income tax produced $401 million at its maximum rate of 6 percent. That was about 5 percent of the state's General Fund revenue.
Scott said growth in the economy would offset any loss in revenue from lowering the tax rate.
The GOP candidate also said he favors creating charter schools, which would be overseen by an agency in the governor's office; reinstating juvenile drug courts statewide with more lengthy punishment ranges; and building a minimum-security prison to treat drug offenders.
"Once we give up on them and sentence them to a medium-security prison, we will have to deal with them multiple times for the rest of their lives as they come out on parole and go back in to prison on re-arrest," Scott said.
He also proposed legislation by which any family could have one of its members declared by a court to be addicted to an illegal substance and committed for treatment without having to pay for the treatment.
"Currently, the family has to pay, and most cannot afford it now, so the law is not helping," he said.
Scott joins Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer and former Louisville councilman Hal Heiner in the race for the GOP nomination.
"We can't control who gets in the race," said Edwin King, a spokesman for Comer's campaign. "We can control our campaign and the strong support for it that is reflected in our last quarter's fundraising."
Comer reported raising more than $550,000 in the most recent quarter and about $1.1 million since entering the race in September, but he does not have the most money. Heiner raised $156,000 in the last three months but provided a $4 million personal loan to his campaign last year.
Scott said the media should not worry about whether he will have enough money to be competitive.
Heiner spokesman Doug Alexander said the campaign will remain focused on "sharing Hal Heiner's message as a conservative outsider looking to change business as usual in Frankfort."
Scott said David Adams will be his campaign manager, and Roger Ford of Pikeville will be his political director.
Adams, who has filed lawsuits against the state challenging its implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, worked for a time as communications director for Rand Paul's U.S. Senate campaign in 2010.
Scott was elected to the Kentucky Supreme Court in 2004. He was a Pike circuit judge from 1984 to 1988 and a trial attorney from 1975 to 1980. In 1981 and 1982, Scott was assistant commonwealth's attorney in Pike County.
He has made unsuccessful runs for Congress and state attorney general.
After attending Eastern Kentucky University for a year, Scott volunteered for the Army in 1966. He was a first lieutenant in Vietnam. After his military service, Scott received a bachelor's degree from Pikeville College and a law degree from the University of Miami in Florida.
Scott has occasionally generated negative headlines for his dealings outside the courtroom.
■ In 2012, Scott put Eastern Kentucky disability lawyer Eric C. Conn on his campaign committee and asked Conn for help raising money. At the time, Conn faced two federal investigations and a fraud lawsuit, accused of rigging medical records for his clients.
■ In 2008, Scott helped oversee the state Administrative Office of the Courts while his oldest son, Andrew H. Scott, was hired into a supervisory position at the AOC despite a pending felony drug charge in Virginia. The younger Scott resigned after the Herald-Leader asked questions about his criminal case.
■ That same year, Pike County decided to purchase downtown Pikeville property owned by Scott and members of his family in order to build its new courthouse. Scott said he preferred not to sell his property, but he agreed to accept the county's offer of $360,000 rather than fight condemnation.