The contest for Lexington's open state Senate seat is a race between two well-known political names — longtime Rep. Kathy Stein and Lexington-Fayette Urban County Councilman Chuck Ellinger II.
Democrat Stein and Republican Ellinger agree on many issues:
■ Both say voters should be able to decide whether casinos should be allowed in Kentucky.
■ Both say they would support an increase in the cigarette tax.
■ Both say they are appalled that House and Senate leaders earlier this fall approved a 47 percent pay raise for the head of the Legislative Research Commission, the administrative arm of the General Assembly.
The campaign has been low-key, with only one real debate between the two candidates.
Stein has raised more money in the heavily Democratic 13th Senate District, which includes most of downtown Lexington. According to the most recent campaign finance reports, she has raised more than $71,000 compared with Ellinger's $42,500.
But there are differences between the two candidates that go deeper than how they would vote on specific issues.
Stein, who was first elected to the House in 1997, is one of the more left-leaning members of the General Assembly. Ellinger is more conservative and is known on the Urban County council for his votes against tax increases.
Stein wants to keep the seat vacated by her political mentor, Ernesto Scorsone, firmly with the Democrats. Scorsone became a Fayette Circuit Court judge earlier this year.
It was Scorsone who persuaded Stein to run for his former House seat more than a decade ago when he decided to run for the 13th District Senate seat. And when he decided to leave the legislative branch for the bench, he turned to Stein again.
If she wins, Stein will give up her nearly 12 years of seniority in the House and a plum chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee.
In the Senate, Scorsone was often the only critic of Republican Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville. Someone needs to keep the Republican-controlled Senate in check, Stein said.
"We determined that I had the qualifications and the courage to take that role on," she said. "Bullies don't scare me."
She said she's proud of her long history of being a progressive voice on such issues as early childhood education, public health and separation of church and state. She says she's fearless and not afraid to take an unpopular stance if she thinks it best for Kentucky.
Stein says she thinks a 70-cent tax increase on cigarettes would not only generate much-needed revenue but would give smokers an incentive to stop.
She also supports retooling the state's penal code. The state has to look at alternatives to prison or it might go broke, she said.
"We have to be smart about crime; that doesn't mean that we can't be tough on crime," Stein said. "The current rate of incarceration in this state is breaking the budget."
Ellinger says he decided to run after being approached by the Republican Party. If he wins, Senate leadership has promised him a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee, which controls the purse strings in the General Assembly. That would put him in a key spot to ensure Lexington gets state money, he said.
Ellinger says there are clear differences between him and Stein on social issues. Ellinger is against same-sex marriage; Stein is for same-sex marriage. Stein has supported the expungement of felony criminal records; Ellinger says he wouldn't support it.
He thinks the state should look at increasing cigarette taxes, but only by 25 cents, and only if the money goes to health care. He also says the state should do more to live within its means.
He points to his work with the city in cutting costs as proof that that he knows how to cut fat from a budget without cutting essential services.
Ellinger, 44, a lawyer, has been involved in local politics for most of the past 20 years. Politics is part of the family business.
Ellinger had been involved in his father's races since the elder Ellinger — also named Chuck — began his political career in 1985. The senior Ellinger was a longtime councilman and ran for mayor. The younger Ellinger ran for council at large in 2002 and was re-elected in 2006. He is in the second year of his four-year term.
Ellinger disagrees with some of Stein's decisions as head of the Judiciary Committee.
"There are differences in our leadership style," he said.
During the past legislative session, Stein did not allow a controversial piece of immigration legislation to come up for a committee vote. Instead, she said immigration should be addressed at the federal level.
"I think it's appropriate for people to talk about an issue and then bring it forward and give people the opportunity to vote on," Ellinger said.