R.J. Palmer, the Democratic leader in the Kentucky Senate, is optimistic that there is now enough cooperative spirit in the Senate to tackle long-overdue tax reform. Under Senate President Robert Stivers, he said, the small Democratic caucus has been able to help shape legislation on various issues.
For example, Palmer, working with Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, crafted a compromise on legislation that brings more accountability and transparency to the myriad of special taxing districts that spend taxpayer money.
The legislation, proposed by Auditor Adam Edelen, had passed the Democratic House and could have easily been caught in partisan wrangling.
A lawmaker who knows how to negotiate and use even limited influence is rare these days and worth keeping. Palmer, a Winchester financial adviser who has served in the legislature since 1999, should be re-elected to the 28th Senate seat. The district includes Clark and Montgomery counties and 49 precincts in Fayette.
Palmer could add some skill to a Fayette delegation further weakened by redistricting; many parts of the county are represented by lawmakers based in surrounding counties. He supported Lexington in its plan to get money for a downtown arts and entertainment district.
Palmer plans to push again next session his bill to give judges more flexibility to keep juveniles out of jail. It passed the Senate unnamiously but was not debated in the House. And he wants Kentuckians to at least get a vote on expanded gambling at racetracks.
Challenger Ralph Alvarado, a Winchester physician with KentuckyOne, is making his second run for the seat. He is engaging and passionate about improving the health-care system.
But despite his extensive experience, his ideas simply echo Republican talking points: tort reform to reduce lawsuits, medical-review panels to stem nursing home complaints and repeal of the Affordable Care Act. His TV campaign ads are even boilereplate: connecting Palmer to President Barack Obama and "war on coal."
Alvarado objects to the Common Core educational standards as a federal mandate and was unaware that the concept was instead proposed by the nation's governors. He talked about the need for more mental-health and addiction treatment but was unaware that the Affordable Care Act has included funds to do just that. If elected, he would find a lot of company for his opinions.
The Kentucky legislature doesn't need more voices to add to the echo chamber, but people like Palmer, who understand the need to find common ground.
The unendorsed candidate may submit a 250-word response by noon Tuesday.