Ideas and experience make John-Mark Hack the best choice by far in Tuesday's special election to fill the 56th District House seat.
Hack, a registered Independent, proposes some incisive reforms to make the legislature more accountable. His deep knowledge of agriculture and the local food industry would be an asset to this farming district and small-farm state. And his diverse work history — in government and the private sector as a partner in a rural business start-up — would also be assets.
The other candidates, Republican Lyen Crews, a CPA who lost a close race for the seat in 2010, and Democrat James Kay, an attorney and local party activist, are likable and seem sincere, despite the substanceless attacks they and their supporters are hurling at the others.
All three candidates have solid roots in Woodford County, which makes up most of the district, along with parts of Fayette and Franklin counties.
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Kay and Crews are offering up their parties' standard fare. But their insights are shallow and uninformed compared with Hack's.
One example: whether and how to expand gambling, which has stumped the legislature for almost two decades because of irreconcilable competing interests.
The Thoroughbred industry is a mainstay of the 56th District's economy. But only Hack, who opposes allowing slot machines because of their addictive qualities, has a practical plan for boosting purses at Kentucky race tracks to compete with those subsidized by slots in other states. Hack proposes enhancing purses by adding a small tax to hotel and motel bills that would be itemized as a charge for Kentucky racing.
Crews supports putting expanded gambling to voters as a constitutional amendment, but offers few specifics on what casino-style gambling should look like, except that race tracks should not have a monopoly.
Kay supports expanded gambling and wants to see the stalled issue revived, but offers no ideas about how to jump-start it.
Neither Crews nor Kay has a plan for moving the issue off the dime, while Hack offers a practical solution for helping an iconic industry compete.
Hack also is better informed on strictly local issues, such as how to re-route heavy truck traffic around downtown Versailles.
Hack is talking up reforms that would shake up the legislature, such as suspending contributions into the legislative pension fund until the pensions of other public employees are fully funded. He wants to open up the state budgeting process to full view, make a non-partisan commission responsible for legislative redistricting and make all government pensions subject to public disclosure.
Voters might worry that an Independent would be shut out in a partisan House, but Hack is articulate and has worked with the legislature in several capacities, including as Gov. Paul Patton's point man on agriculture and the tobacco settlement. He won't need talking points to make himself heard.
Unendorsed candidates may submit responses of no more than 250 words by noon Friday.