Jessamine County voters will be represented by a conservative in the state House whether they vote for Republican challenger Chris Moore or Democratic incumbent Robert Damron on Nov. 4.
Damron, who was first elected to the House in 1992, is considered the favorite. He has raised more than 10 times the funds Moore has raised and has been endorsed by dozens of civic and political groups.
By Oct. 11, Damron had raised $148,506, compared to Moore's $12,444, according to campaign finance reports.
But that doesn't mean the contest for the 39th District seat has been a quiet affair. Each candidate has accused the other of unethical conduct, and an October debate between the two turned rowdy as supporters for both packed the audience and added color-commentary to the debate.
"This is a David and Goliath race," Moore said. "But you know what's interesting, I think it's going to be a close race."
Damron, who grew up in Lincoln County and is the son of two teachers, is one of the more conservative members of the Democratic Party in the House. He is best known for his pro-gun stance — he shepherded legislation that allowed Kentuckians to carry concealed weapons with a permit — and is against abortion.
Damron said recently that he is most proud of legislation that has helped the elderly and the mentally ill. Damron successfully pushed for changes in the way nursing homes are certified so people could live in retirement communities with a full complement of care — independent living apartments, assisted living facilities and a nursing home. Before, nursing homes had blocked the expansion of retirement communities in the nursing home business.
Damron has also pushed for parity in insurance payments for mental illness and fought for stronger legislation for victims of domestic violence. He touts the millions of dollars in state money that he has been able to steer to his district for water and sewer and other capital projects.
Damron notes that he has sponsored more than 100 bills that eventually were passed. But Moore dismisses that, noting that few voters can name even one law or bill passed out of the recent legislative session.
And there have been questions about Damron's employment with Ross Sinclair & Associates, a financial firm that also advises local governments on bond issues.
Damron wrote the bill that changed how courthouses in Kentucky were funded and approved. Ross Sinclair eventually ended up with 68 percent of the $880 million bonding business for those courthouses, a recent Herald-Leader report found.
Damron said that he sponsored the 2000 bill after talking to then-Chief Justice Joseph Lambert, who said too many courthouses were being built without proper security and that the judiciary needed more oversight over the building program. At the time, Damron agreed with Lambert.
Damron, who works for Ross Sinclair in South Carolina, said he had nothing to do with Ross Sinclair getting the work for the courthouses.
"It doesn't give preferential treatment to Ross Sinclair," Damron said of his bill. Moreover, the decision on who gets those contracts is done at the local level, not by the state, Damron said.
But Damron said that after reviewing the nearly $880 million courthouse program, he realized there were some problems. "I think it did get out of hand," he said of the 10-year courthouse building blitz.
Damron has also raised questions about Moore's past conduct in public office. Moore owns a paint store that does business with the city of Nicholasville. Moore, according to the city's ethics code, should abstain from approval of his own bills. Yet he has never abstained, city records show.
However, Moore said he never hid the fact that his store, Nicholasville Paint & Decorating, did business with the city. It's on his financial disclosure forms with the city, he said. Moore said that during city commission meetings he is often handed a stack of bills and does not always go through those bills to see whether his business's bills are included.
Moore said his company has done business with the city since before he became a city commissioner in 2004. Many of the most recent bills have been for smaller touch-up work for previous jobs that included paint from his store, Moore said.
Moore said there is nothing unethical about what he has done and thinks Damron has committed the greater sin by writing legislation that ultimately benefited his employer.
Moore, a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, lived in Lexington and graduated from Tates Creek High School before moving to Nicholasville in 1998.
Moore said that as a small-business owner he understands the problems that everyday people and businesses face. He would like to make Kentucky more friendly for small businesses so the state can attract more businesses and increase revenue. He would also like to see the state move away from the CATS tests or Commonwealth Accountability Testing System. Too many students graduate from Kentucky schools not prepared for work.
"That just teaches kids how to take a test; the goal is to get them employed," Moore said of education. He said as a city commissioner he was not afraid to take an unpopular vote if he thought it was in the taxpayers' best interest. He said he will bring that type of integrity with him to Frankfort.
If he wins on Nov. 4, he might not be the only Moore in the House. His brother, Rep. Timothy Moore, R-Elizabethtown, is running for re-election.
Growing up, the Moores weren't a political family, Chris Moore said.
"My parents say they can't believe that they raised two politicians," Moore said.